jason montero’s “inside out” album is rootsy classic rock filled with killer rhythms

jason montero’s “inside out” album is rootsy classic rock filled with killer rhythms

As a music nerd, it’s fun to listen to new releases and try to figure out where an artist’s influences come from. However, it takes talent and real musical ambition to not just seem like an admirer of certain inspirations with nothing original to say. Inside Out, the new album from Florida-based singer-songwriter Jason Montero, wears its influences on its sleeve yet keeps things fresh with new ideas. It’s a record clearly worshiping a lot of classic rock but focusing deeply on grooves, shared chemistry between band members, and varied instrumentation to be a consistently enjoyable listen.

Montero, a guitarist and longtime performer in bands local to the Phoenix area (Honey Child, The Limit, The Wood Band), explained that this album specifically resulted from dusting off some late-80s/early-90s songs he never ended up recording. For the studio recording sessions, several old bandmates and friends from his life helped to contribute parts, and everyone’s enthusiasm for the project clearly shines through. Every song sounds like a portion of a fun afternoon jam session, with the backing band getting ample opportunities to contribute, whether it’s for rhythm or simply texture and atmosphere.

The first half of the album surprised me with how danceable and almost funk-driven it was. Songs like “No James Dean”, “Criss Cross”, and lead single “Thorn” all have delightful swinging grooves that’s toe-tapping fun throughout their entire runtime. The emphasis on hand drums and shakers during certain tracks turns what could be simple bar band blues-rock into something more worldly and cultured than expected. Sometimes the songs reminded me of Paul Simon’s Graceland or even Vampire Weekend’s early world music excursions. A song like “Conclusive Illusions” has layers of sounds to it, but each instrument develops tightly together into complex polyrhythms. It’s impressive at the level of musicianship present during certain songs.

The second half of Inside Out is less upbeat, introducing elements of folk and psychedelia. “Marvel at the Rainbow” and closer “Her Majesty’s List” are sweet and earnest, mainly featuring Montero with soft and gentle acoustic guitar playing. Speaking of which, his acoustic and electric guitar work are consistently great, with the latter getting to shine on heavier songs like “Gomorrah” and “Rebecca”. Montero’s vocals, like a lot of classic rock singers, are more about their grit and gruffness than necessarily their technical ability, and they complement the bluesier songs well enough. He also produced the album himself, and the sound of the production fits perfectly. It’s very natural and rural sounding to match the vintage influences and shines during the more acoustic sections of the record.

Inside Out isn’t perfect and may rely too much on classic rock conventions for some, yet that’s part of why it works. Going back to these old songs written decades ago was clearly a nostalgia-driven exercise for Jason Montero, and that passion shines through in every song. If he had rewritten and updated them from the work of a less experienced singer-songwriter, the initial appeal of recording the songs, to begin with, would be lost. As it is, Inside Out is a time capsule of songs that aren’t confined to the decades originally written from.