Montrose

Montrose (Warner Bros. ’73) Rating: A-
The first album featuring future Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar, Montrose is the best album The Red Rocker has ever been involved with. Of course, much of that has to do with the hotshot guitarist that this band is named after, as Ronnie Montrose (a session veteran who had recorded with Van Morrison and Edgar Winter) has a raw, thick, flat-out monstrous guitar tone and delivers several tremendously exciting solos, often towards the end of songs. The album gets off to a rousing start with arguably its three best songs, beginning with “Rock The Nation,” an energetic, anthemic track on which the band just wants to have fun while making sure that we do as well. These guys were heavy as hell for 1973, and a track like “Bad Motor Scooter," which fittingly starts with Montrose's guitar approximating an engine revving up, still hits like a ton of bricks, with a great overall groove and a catchy chorus too, plus a superb guitar solo from Ronnie. Also excellent is “Space Station No. 5,” which starts slow and atmospheric before powerfully surging forward, ultimately climaxing with a frenetic finish. In general, the unheralded rhythm section of bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Carmassi is far more than merely adequate, and Sammy sings impressively. Unfortunately, though he generally sounds good (though he can still grate at times), it's what he’s singing that’s the album's primary problem. Lines like “well I gave love a chance and it shit back in my face” (on the still-formidable "I Don't Want It") are bad enough, as are simplistic "let's rock out" lyrics elsewhere, but mindless cock rock lyrics like “you’re rock candy baby, hard, sweet, and sticky” can be hard to overlook. Fortunately, the Brontosaurus-sized stomp largely overcomes said lyrics on "Rock Candy," and Ronnie's fierce guitar also manages to reinvigorate “Good Rockin’ Tonight," a golden oldie associated with Elvis Presley that's the album's lone cover song. Rounding out the track list, "One Thing On My Mind" is a melodic and catchy if not quite as heavy party tune, and "Make It Last" is a bluesy slide guitar showcase that gets anthemic and provides a satisfying finale. So, as you can see, there's not any filler on the album, perhaps in part because it's rather short at a mere 32 minutes long. True, some of these songs are rather generic songwriting-wise, and the silly lyrics are regrettable, but the incredible energy and intensity of the performances (expertly captured on tape by future Van Halen producer Ted Templeman), particularly from Mr. Montrose (who Eddie was a big fan of), makes this debut album extremely enjoyable despite its minor flaws. Certainly Montrose deserved more recognition and acclaim than it received at the time, though the band can take solace in the fact that many a middle-aged headbanger now considers it something of a "lost classic."

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