NASHVILLE — A lot has been made of Montgomery Gentry’s whiskey-bent and hell-bound image, and the country duo’s Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry sometimes find it hard to live up to the hype.
“People expect more than what it is,” Gentry said. “Eddie and I are just two average guys that like to go out and have a beer and have a good time. It’s something we don’t want to exploit, but it’s not something we’re going to hide either.
“We’re not these two guys out just partying nonstop, 24-7,” Gentry continued. “There are times that we hit a lull. We’ve been out on the road for three or four weeks straight, and we get done with the show and we’re ready to go to bed or just chill and relax. Then we get a bunch of radio buddies and people from other bands that come over to our bus. They’re ready to rock, and sometimes we got to just stand up and turn on and be that guy.”
Montgomery cut in on him, “We work hard, and we play hard.”
“We take our music and our business very seriously,” Gentry added.
Their second album, Carrying On (RealAudio excerpt of title track), hit stores Tuesday, and the newcomers have a coveted slot on the Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show, which also features Toby Keith and Keith Urban.
Montgomery Gentry opened about a dozen dates for Brooks & Dunn shortly after releasing their debut album, Tattoos & Scars, two years ago. In October, Montgomery Gentry were named the Country Music Association’s vocal duo of the year, ending Brooks & Dunn’s unprecedented eight-year victory streak.
Tattoos & Scars has been certified gold, and Montgomery Gentry won plaudits last year, including favorite new country artist at the American Music Awards and top new vocal group at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Again competing against Brooks & Dunn, they contend for top vocal duo at the 36th annual ACM Awards and will present an award during the broadcast Wednesday on CBS.
Playing together off and on since their teens, Montgomery, 37, and Gentry, 34, honed their country-rock sound on the Lexington, Kentucky, club circuit. Before forming Montgomery Gentry, the friends joined forces in a band called Young Country with Eddie’s brother, John Michael Montgomery, who later found success as a solo act.
After playing small bars for years, the pair feel they still connect with listeners in larger venues, such as the amphitheaters and arenas they perform in on the Brooks & Dunn tour.
“There’s a different vibe,” Gentry said. “You’re able to pull the crowd more into the show in the smaller venues. We’re kind of partial to honky-tonks because Eddie and I grew up in them. But the sensation of playing the big sheds and arenas where there is a sea of people is incredible. Hearing people sing our songs back to us, even songs that haven’t been singles, is really cool. It makes us feel really good about our work.”
Like its predecessor, Carrying On is decidedly testosterone-fueled country-rock. Typified by the cover of the 1974 Waylon Jennings hit “Ramblin’ Man” (RealAudio excerpt), the songs offer a macho perspective rarely heard from Nashville songwriters these days.
“She Couldn’t Change Me” (RealAudio excerpt), the leadoff track and first single, tells the story of a man lamenting a relationship gone sour when the woman brings home a bottle of pink Chablis and pours out his home brew. In a typical Montgomery Gentry stance, the man stands his ground, and the female character eventually comes around to his point of view. “She changed her mind when she couldn’t change me,” the lyric goes.
The man in “Cold One Comin’ On” drowns his sorrows in a cold beer. In a vein similar to “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm” from their first album, “My Father’s Son” relates the plight of a family farmer who stands up against urban sprawl.
Like their breakthrough hit “Hillbilly Shoes,” “While the World Goes Down the Drain” (RealAudio excerpt) is a rowdy declaration of backwoods pride. “Drop me off on a mountainside where the beer and the deer reside,” they sing in the chorus, “I’ll spend my nights sitting around the fire making this guitar ring/ I’ll be doing fine underneath the pines while the world goes down the drain.”
Outside the Jennings cover and one original, “Lucky to Be Here,” which Montgomery and Gentry co-wrote with Kenny Beard, the songs on Carrying On come from Nashville tunesmiths such as Gary Nicholson, Chris Knight, Clay Davidson and Mike Geiger. According to the duo, the Music Row songwriters, who usually keep their songs toned down to please radio, were glad to write from a masculine point of view for a change.
“A lot of them grew up with the same kind of ears that we have,” Gentry explained. “They listened to the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, Hank Jr. and that kind of stuff. They had no area to really write toward, because they didn’t have an artist they could pitch [songs] to that could get radio play.
“Then we came around and got accepted by radio through ‘Hillbilly Shoes’ and other songs that are a little edgy. It lit them up to where they could sit down and write some of the stuff that they’ve been wanting to write for a long time and feel they had a chance of getting it cut.”