Picture of Melba Montgomery

A rootsy, robust singer and a helluva songwriter, Melba Montgomery is just about my Number One candidate for the "Hey, Major Label-- Put Out A CD Already!" award. (I first wrote those words in 1998, when Montgomery was one of the first artists I profiled on this site... and unbelievably, it's still true!)

Montgomery signed to the United and Musicor labels in 1962, when George Jones was their biggest artist. As a result, she was often referred to as "the female George Jones." The good side to this is that she legitimately was one of the most awesome female hardcore honkytonkers ever; the bad side was that she kept on getting paired up with Ole Possum for duet records. Now, I'm as much of a Jones fan as anybody, but to my ears, the two were so similar in style and tone that they tended to cancel each other out. And Montgomery had talent to spare... She didn't really need to keep getting cast as his sidekick.

Her solo albums, however, were impressive: if you see one of her old LPs, grab it. Although the label gradually moulded her into a run-of-the-mill, sappily produced "girl" singer, Montgomery started off as a rip-snorting honkytonker -- one of the rootsiest female country singers ever, along with Jean Shepard, Wanda Jackson and Charline Arthur. Even more impressive, Montgomery wrote most of her own material -- and continued to be a successful Nashville songwriter for decades to come, sort of a go-to gal when you wanted some pure, twangy, old-school hard country. Here's a quick look at her work...

Discography - Best-Ofs

Melba Montgomery & George Jones "Vintage Collections" (Capitol Vintage Series, 1995)
A fairly definitive retrospective of Melba's work with honkytonk superstar George Jones, an artist she was frequently compared to. I'm a huge, gigantic fan of both these artists, though I have to confess their 1960s duets do little for me. Still, this is Montgomery's only classic work that I'm aware of which is in print, and since she is an artist who is seriously in need of being "rediscovered", I'll recommend it on that basis alone. If you're interested in discovering cool country women, check this out, or look for other old Melba Montgomery records.

Melba Montgomery "Golden Moments" (Classic World Productions, 2001)
This budget-line record ain't much to look at -- nondescript album art and zero-zip-zilch in the liner notes department -- but if you're a fan of Montgomery's rugged, rural style, you'll definitely want to check it out. She's backed by a generic pick-up band playing with a robust modern style --again, no great shakes. What's compelling, though, is hearing a more mature Melba still beltin' it out in the hard-country honkytonk style... Whenever these sessions were actually recorded (could've even been in the '80s, for all I know...) they mark a welcome return to form for the youthful Ms. Montgomery, who reclaims her hillbilly roots and shows the younger set what country is really all about. Interestingly enough, she's singing old country standards, not her own material, so this is a nice chance to hear her sing tunes like "Making Believe," "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," "He Thinks I Still Care" and "Jambalaya." Maybe it isn't the best honkytonk music ever recorded, but for a Melba fan like me, this disc is definitely a treat.

John Prine "In Spite Of Ourselves" (Oh Boy, 1999)
Melba joins the craggy-voice John Prine for a couple of great tunes on this fab duets album. Other guests include Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Patty Loveless and Connie Smith. This may well have been my favorite country album of the 1999... The song selection is flawless, ranging from straight-ahead weepers like Don Everley's "So Sad" or Felice Bryant's "We Could," to goofy oldies like "The Jet Set" and "Milwaukee Here I Come" and "We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds" (the last two featuring Melba's marvelous vocals... The arrangements -- particularly the pedal steel by Dan Dugmore -- are picture perfect; understated and expressive but wholly in service of the lyrics. Prine proves a point he's made many times over the years, that sometimes the secret to good singing is just keeping thing simple. And his choice in singing partners is nothing to sneeze at either. Melba fans really oughtta check this one out!

Melba Montgomery "No Charge" (K-Tel, 2007)
Re-recorded versions of old hits...

Melba Montgomery "Miss Country Music" (Hilltop) (LP) *
Budget label reissue -- but also maybe a little more common than her original LPs, so worth looking for, if all else fails. Great music.

Melba Montgomery & George Jones "As Long As We're Dreaming" (Musicor, 1974) (LP)
A best-of, drawn from their Musicor duets.

Discography - Albums

Melba Montgomery "America's No. 1 Country and Western Girl Singer" (United Artists, 1963) (LP)
Totally kickass, for my money, one of the best country records ever made. Just drop the needle anywhere. Montgomery's debut album is so country and so rural, it simply cuts through the decades like vinegar on a salt lick. Like Jean Shepard before her, Montgomery evenly splits her songs between broken-hearted doormat weepers, and rueful, half-threatening recrimination tunes. Excellent hard country made at the height of the sappy "Nashville Sound" era -- a real gem.

Melba Montgomery & George Jones "What's In Our Heart" (United Artists, 1963) (LP)
(Produced by Pappy Daily)

The first of many duets albums between these honky-tonk gods. This one has bright production, with slow arrangements and includes their signature duet, the country classic "We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds." George's voice is still quite youthful, and when he hits the mark, it's quite nice. Take for example the gimmicky, math-oriented novelty number, "Multiply The Heartache" where Jones characteristically throws himself wholeheartedly into the most banal verses... and provides one of the best harmonizations of their long string of duets. Funny how that happens.

Melba Montgomery "Down Home" (United Artists, 1964) (LP)

Melba Montgomery "I Can't Get Used To Being Lonely" (United Artists, 1965) (LP)
(Produced by Pappy Daily)

Melba Montgomery "The Hallelujah Road - Sacred Songs" (Musicor, 1966) (LP)
(Produced by Pappy Daily)

If you're a fan of country gospel, Melba really does it up right on this one. Her down-home Gomer Pyle delivery really carries this material, and her delivery is so lively that the arrangements (which are all solid) simply fade into the background. Heartfelt, musically sound, and pretty upbeat. It's a goodie.

Melba Montgomery "Country Girl" (Musicor, 1966) (LP)

Melba Montgomery "The Mood I'm In" (Unart, 1966) (LP)
(Produced by Pappy Daily)

A very strong, bluesy album. All but three of the songs were written by Melba. Of the others, two are by George Jones, and another is "White Lightning." Great material, with a tight band who play like they mean it. This is an album you can come back to time after time. Highly recommended.

Melba Montgomery & George Jones "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" (United Artists, 1966) (LP)
A solid album that's about one third duets, and two thirds solo vocals. Melba shines on this one, partly because she sticks to secular heartsongs, whereas George plods through gospel tracks with flat arrangements. "Hall Of Shame" and "Before She Changed Your Mind" are standouts, and of course they do a version of the Bill Monroe bluegrass classic, "Blue Moon Of Kentucky." The best duet comes towards the end, though, particularly "What's In Our Hearts," a song credited to Jones himself.

Melba Montgomery & Gene Pitney "Being Together" (Musicor, 1966) (LP)
(Produced by Pappy Daily & Gene Pitney)

There's a curious Everly Brothers-y quality to their duets. The studio dial twisters tend to favor Pitney's vocals (which is to be expected, since he was the bigger star) but Mongomery adds a lot of country cred. It's mildly jarring when they trade off verses -- Pitney's strangled frog voice next to Melba's truckstop waitress drawl, but the harmony parts are quite nice. A little off-kilter, but interesting.

Melba Montgomery "Melba Toast" (Musicor, 1967) (LP)
(Produced by Pappy Daily)

Gawd, did they really put out an album under this title?? Poor Melba! The good news is that it's a pretty solid album, with nice, strong backup music... Melba's voice is mysteriously low and thick-sounding here, and her phrasing seems a bit off... Still, this is an album worth looking for.

Melba Montgomery "I'm Just Living" (Musicor, 1967) (LP)
(Produced by Pappy Daily)

One of her best early albums, although it's almost astonishingly downcast. The title track encapsulates the vibe: these are super bummed-out ballads with titles like "He's Gone", "Lonelier and More In Love Each Day" and "Right Time To Lose My Mind"... One after the other, until you just want to cry!! Rarely is country misery so effectively and consistently sustained -- there's very little to break up the heartache here, but it makes for a nice album. Her voice is also really mysteriously husky and low on here... but a bit more effectively than on the previous album.

Melba Montgomery "Don't Keep Me Lonely Too Long" (Musicor, 1967)
(Produced by Pappy Daily & Bob Scerbo)

A little on the maudlin side, with softer tempos and corny backup vocals by the Jordanaires. Pappy Daily's production seems slightly off the mark, a bit on the tinny side, which poorly frames Montgomery's throaty hillbilly vocals. Not a bad record, but not the straight-ahead honkytonk she excels at.

Melba Montgomery & George Jones "Close Together As You And Me" (United Artists) (LP) *
(Produced by Pappy Daily)

Melba Montgomery & George Jones "Bluegrass Hootenanny" (United Artists 3352) (LP) *

Melba Montgomery "The Big Wide Wonderful Country World Of Melba Montgomery" (Capitol) (LP)
(Produced by Kelso Herston)

A pretty strong album, though you can start to hear things drift a bit. Her version of the secretary's rights/sexual harassment novelty tune, "Mr. Walker, It's All Over," is great.

Melba Montgomery "Don't Keep Me Lonely Too Long" (Capitol) (LP)
(Produced by George Richey)

Although this shares the same title as one of her older Musicor albums, these are new sessions, including several Bakersfield Sound songs from the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Mostly pretty good, with only mildly iffy production touches.

Melba Montgomery "Aching, Breaking Heart" (Capitol) (LP)
Capitol seemed to be tinkering with just how to go about selling Melba to the public... several songs on here overlap from the Don't Keep Me Lonely Too Long album, though there's also some new material. Don't ask me what that was all about!

Melba Montgomery & Charlie Louvin "Something To Brag About" (Capitol, 1971) (LP)
(Produced by George Richey)

When they really get going, this is awesome. In general, though, things bog down a bit. For one thing, Charlie is trying too hard to sound like George Jones -- I'd rather he sound like himself. Melba holds her own, but they both struggle against meandering Nashville production. The high point of this album is the title song, which was a moderately successful hit single. Written by Bobby Braddock, it sounds suspiciously similar to his song, "Nothin's Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losin' You)," which George Jones made a hit in 1973. There are also a couple of Louvin Brothers covers, but they are disappointing.

Melba Montgomery & Charlie Louvin "Baby, You've Got What It Takes" (Capitol, 1972) (LP)
(Produced by George Richey)

Similar terrain to the Something To Brag About album, this album repeats the title track, and includes a cover of the Louvin Brothers "When I Stop Dreaming." Somewhat interesting to fans of either of these artists, but not earthshaking.

Melba Montgomery "Melba Montgomery" (Elektra, 1973) (LP)
Slushy, lugubrious countrypolitan. Switching labels on more time, Montgomery finds herself cast in almost a Rita Coolidge-ish style... Her vocals are still very bluesy, but the production is so leaden and sleepy, listening to this album is like pouring molasses in your ears. The songwriting is also a bit overdone, trying too hard to sound serious and high-class...

Melba Montgomery "No Charge" (Elektra, 1974) (LP) *
(Produced by Pete Drake)

Features the cornball sentimental epic, "No Charge," in which a mother recounts all the wonderful things she does for her son... free of charge. The rest of the album follows in the same goopy tone; your basic low-key countrypolitan album, standard for the times. The title track was her only post-Capitol hit single.

Melba Montgomery "The Greatest Gift Of All" (Elektra, 1975) (LP)
(Produced by Pete Drake)

Produced by and featuring Pete Drake, as well as Buddy Spicher and the usual crew of slightly-livelier Nashville studio cats.

Melba Montgomery "Don't Let The Good Times Fool You" (Elektra, 1975) (LP) *
(Produced by Pete Drake)

Melba Montgomery "Melba Montgomery" (United Artists, 1978) (LP) *
(Produced by Pete Drake & Larry Butler)

Melba Montgomery "I Still Care" (Phonorama, 1982)
This bargain basement indie release is pretty far off the beaten track as far as Music City memories go... But Melba makes a game go of it, and even with the goofy modern arrangements, this isn't as geeky or embarassing an album as you might imagine. Sure, Melba's voice isn't in top form, but this is still an okay album. The sad part, though, is that there's only one Melba original on here - "Craw Dad" - and the rest of the album is made up of classics such as Carl Belew's "Lonely Street," and other cover tunes.

Melba Montgomery "Wrap Your Love Around Me" (Country Harvest, 1991)

Melba Montgomery "Do You Know Where Your Man Is?" (Playback, 1993)
You'd think, from the name of the label, that this would be a cheapie reissue of some of her older stuff. However, it's actually a modern recording session, still done on the cheap, but a nice highlight of Melba's continuing vocal power. There are only nine tracks on this disc, and the arrangements are fairly hackneyed, but Melba's still got the chops to carry the day. Plus, the song selection is pretty strong -- in addition to Melba's originals, there are a couple of Harlan Howard tunes, one by Wayne Walker... etc. Not earth-shattering, but Melba fans will want to check it out anyway.

Melba Montgomery "This Time Around" (CMC, 1997)
(Produced by Jack Solomon, Staffan Oberg & Jan Ohlsson)

A sweet, solid set recorded off-the-cuff when some Swedish fans had set up a recording session in Nashville for a different artist, but noticed Montgomery hanging out in the studio and asked her if she would record for them as well. And we're so glad she said yes: this features a nice selection of her later songs, many of them written with younger contemporary songwriters such as Kostas, Kathy Louvin and Billy Yates. They all have a good, old-fashioned hard-country feel, though - classic Melba Montgomery all the way. Her voice has definitely entered into the "old lady" phase, as husky as before, with a slight rasp of age. She wears it with the same pride and panache as her male country counterparts such Ray Price and Merle Haggard: this is the sound of experience and expertise, of a life really lived, and it makes the humor and pathos in her songs that much more resonant. A nice one that diehard Melba fans will want to track down.

Melba Montgomery "Things That Keep You Going" (RPM, 2010)
A solid set of new songs from hard-country heroine Melba Montgomery... I'm not sure exactly when these sessions were made, but since Montgomery was well into her seventies when the album came out, it's not too surprising that she's got an old granny voice. But she also has the huskiness and forceful personality she had when she was young, and brings a worldly savviness to her lyrics. Plus, the songs are all first rate: fans who've seen her name pop up from time to time -- on songwriting credits with old Sara Evans hits and collaborations with Jim Lauderdale -- will be thrilled by this big batch of new songs, with Montgomery herself singing with a soulful, acoustic-based accompaniment. I'm still waiting for that big, definitive Bear Family box set, but in the meantime I'll proudly file these MP3s alongside my old, cherished vinyl.


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