by Brian McGowan
Release date: 11 January 2016
When Ronnie met Sammy sparks flew. The unstoppable force met the immoveable object. Ronnie Montrose had the upper hand of course, it was his band. A pre Red Rocker / Van Halen Sammy Hagar had to settle for showcasing his incendiary vocal talents on 2 great Montrose rock albums, then he was gone.
Rock Candy Records, probably now the world’s leading reissue label for Melodic Rock and AOR (and certainly the most prolific) has again struck the motherlode with this terrific trio of Montrose remasters: Paper Money, Warner Music Presents and Jump On It (The one with the, er…interesting artwork)
Received wisdom is that the band’s self-titled debut album, released in 1973, was the one that defined seventies hard rock, forming a coalition of several sub genres to create a unified whole. It was a sound that many, many bands were to adopt as a springboard for their own careers and subsequent success, like the aforementioned Van Halen.
Bizarrely, you might think, having accidentally created an original and acclaimed mould, Montrose then attempted to break it. Paper Money (1974) was, at its heart, a reboot, an album flavoured with the contributions of outside writers and a diversity of style. From the macho, muscular ‘I Got The Fire’, to the solemn desolation of ‘Stones’ cover, ‘Connection’; from ‘Starliner’s bursts of radiant guitars to the title track’s stab at social commentary, the studio production alternately added and subtracted layers of complexity that dazed and confused the music press. But not the fans. Paper Money sold twice as many as the debut. But Hagar and Montrose’s failure to communicate led to a parting of the ways.
Emboldened by the commercial success of Paper Money, Ronnie Montrose took over at the studio helm from Ted Templeman on third album, Warner Music Presents (1975), and continued his band’s journey through the evolving soundscape of his musical manifesto. Adding to the band’s three-man core, he had recruited Montrose cover band vocalist, Bob James and keyboardist Jim Alcivar. Fantastically, ‘All I Need’ weds sixties’ soft rock harmonies to hard rock thunder, while ‘Whaler’ is arguably as fine a piece of ocean going progressive rock you’ll hear this side of Procol Harum’s ‘A Salty Dog’. It’s like walking in on an upmarket, classic rock cabaret, where every song is a crowd-pleaser in what was becoming typical Montrose nonconformist style.
Between times, the album oscillates between archetypal seventies hard rock…’Dancing Feet’ and the proto speed metal of ‘Black Train’, a magnificently apposite album closer. A chart placing in Billboard’s Top 100’s lower reaches was the reward.
The heavy handed touch of label execs is clearly apparent on the band’s fourth and last album, Jump On It. The clear and past, present and future danger of using such controversial cover art is its propensity for usurping its purpose and becoming the message. Ronnie Montrose always maintained that the album title was meant to be a rallying call to the disenfranchised. Much to the chagrin of the label, sex didn’t sell and the album languished once again in the Top 100’s bottom half. The truth is that Jump On It is a largely bloodless compendium of average rock songs, with a handful of the good stuff peppered across its 32 minute, 9 track short measure. The slide/wail of ‘Let’s Go’ would have you swearing unequivocally that James is the superior of Hagar. The title track will remind you, if you need it, that Ronnie Montrose invented seventies hard rock, single handledly (well, ok, two handedly). A good album, but not a great one.
It almost goes without saying now, that Rock Candy have somehow found the holy grail of remastering. That expert combination of art and technique … how far can you push the compression while staying true to the recording’s dynamics? Rock Candy seem to get that equation to work just right every time.
All three remasters are also blessed with copious, well informed liner notes about the making of the albums, plus interviews laced with mucho ephemera and indeed, arcana.
Paper Money – 8 out of 10
Warner Music Presents – 7 out of 10
Jump on It – 6 out of 10
I Got The Fire
We’re Going Home
All I Need
Twenty Flight Rock
O Lucky Man
One And A Half
What Are You Waiting For
Jump On It
Crazy For You
Merry Go Round