Montrose (Deluxe Edition 2 CD)

Montrose

Warner Brothers / Rhino, 2017

http://www.ronniemontrose.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/09/2018

Among the many notable things about Montrose’s self-titled 1973 debut—often cited as the initial epicenter of American hard rock—is its brevity. At a concise eight tracks and 32 fist-pumping, air-guitaring minutes, it almost inevitably leaves listeners eager for more, which makes the new deluxe editions of both Montrose and its 1974 sequel Paper Money welcome additions to the Montrose canon.

The fact that no completed but unreleased studio tracks exist from the band’s founding lineup of Ronnie Montrose (guitars), Sam (Sammy) Hagar (vocals), Bill Church (bass) and Denny Carmassi (drums) might seem like a significant obstacle to assembling a deluxe edition worthy of the name, but it isn’t. Disc one finds the familiar Montrose classics—“Rock The Nation,” “Bad Motor Scooter,” “Space Station #5”, “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Rock Candy,” and “Make It Last” among them—faithfully remastered for this edition, and these classic tracks do feel like they benefit from a touch of extra sharpness and separation, though the differences require close listening to detect.

The second disc of bonus tracks might not seem to offer a lot that’s new at first glance; after all, the band’s early live performance for KSAN radio at the Record Plant in Sausalito in April 1973 is probably one of the most widely bootlegged sets in the history of American hard rock, taking place weeks before the band even had a name, let alone initial recordings of these songs. And how much could a half dozen demos, including just one unreleased song (“Shoot Us Down”), really add to the story? But that initial impression doesn’t hold up; in fact, the bonus disc offers multiple thrills and points of interest.nbtc__dv_250

For one, the live cuts and side chatter captured between and during them underscore even more emphatically how impossible it would be for a single band to contain two larger-than-life alpha-dog personalities like Ronnie Montrose and Sammy Hagar for long—they both simply burned too bright for either to leave the other sufficient oxygen. Hagar yelps and shouts over Montrose’s solos in several places, and the mid-song breakdown that bisects the live version of “Rock The Nation” stretches out to the point where even this dedicated fan began to wonder “Uh, Ronnie, you ever going to get back to the, y’know, song?”

Regarding the KSAN performances, while they’ve been bootlegged repeatedly over the years, those recordings all came from secondary sources, meaning they’ve never before been heard with this kind of crisp, professional sound quality. That, too, has its drawbacks, exposing every element and nuance of this raw and sometimes choppy performance (in addition to not having a name yet, the group hadn’t yet figured out the trademark slide guitar intro to “Bad Motor Scooter”). But the recordings also capture the band’s essential fire in bold living color, and feature the only performances I’ve ever heard of two unreleased tracks—the chunky, rather Bad Company-flavored “Shoot Me Down” and the scorching if somewhat disjointed “You’re Out Of Time”—not to mention a rip-roaring, almost giddy cover of the Chuck Berry classic “Roll Over Beethoven.”

Perhaps equally obvious, but also worth noting, is a second conclusion reached after hearing these demos and early performances: Ted Templeman was the absolute perfect choice for producer. The demos and KSAN tracks show abundant potential—fire and flair and a strong will to be heard—but they’re also undercooked and clunky in places, with tempos, transitions and solos not nearly as worked out and dynamic as they would be on the final Montrose recordings. “Rock Candy,” for example, is a standard mid-tempo rocker on the demo and KSAN versions, in contrast with the grinding greatness of the slowed-down studio version. As for “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” you might think it couldn’t possibly be played any faster than the final recorded version… but as the Roadrunner-tempoed demo version heard here evidences, you’d be wrong about that. Templeman put a bridle and a saddle on this wild Mustang and channeled Montrose’s manic energy into a final performance that’s all the more powerful for those moments when it exercises a modicum of restraint.

While the bonus disc performances don’t reach the heights of the finished product, they vividly illustrate the creative arc that led to this landmark album. Those insights along with Mike Mettler’s terrific liner notes and the superb packaging—including a raft of rare shots from the Norman Seeff photo shoot that produced the original cover—ensure that this is a package well worth picking up; it’s hard rock perfection with a fresh new twist.

Rating: A

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