After a few spins through the latest solo release from blues/country/folk maestro Chris Monti, it's clear the man can spin a darn good, engaging tale with guitar (and harmonica and kazoo and fiddle) skills to match. Monti's new solo album Home is now available, which follows 2005's Locust Grove and his '03 debut Swampland Flowers (available at iTunes and cdbaby.com). Whether nimbly noodling on six- and 12-string acoustic guitars or whipping up an a cappella tale about stolen chickens, Monti offers a wide array of soul-searching compositions. And the man has had plenty of influential musicians and friends offering incomparable tutelage along the way.
When he was in his early 20s, Monti toured the country with local blues icon Paul Geremia, and has since paid dues with a handful of bands from the Providence Wholebellies to the Double Decker Dance Band. And if you've ever set foot in Nick-a-Nee's (or glanced at their weekly ad here), the roots crew the Killdevils must ring a bell. Beginning next week, Killdevils co-founder Jacob Haller (check his 2010 solo debut Mistaken Identity, a frighteningly quirky collection of catchy tunes) and Monti will hit the East Coast on a twin bill (mostly free gigs with "tips welcomed"; dates at killdevils.com), and the two longtime friends have plenty of material to draw from. Although the Killdevils' live sets often include an endless array of cover tunes ranging from Bob Dylan to Randy Newman to Martha & the Vandellas, Monti reports the upcoming tour will include only originals.
Monti hits the local circuit frequently and also appears at farmers' markets, schools, and hospitals, and has lived off his music since quitting his last non-musical job in 2005 "after hiking and hitchhiking around Alaska.
Monti was raised in the Silver Lake area until age 4, when his dad built a house in the rural boonies of East Greenwich ("Lots of trees, rocks, and salamanders," he noted). His subsequent adoration of the nature scene brought us to my favorite track on the new record, "Independence Day," though Monti referred to the stark acoustic cut as the one song he was "least sure of.
" 'Independence Day' is a pretty rough collision of my writing, my spiritual search, and my interest in birdwatching," he said. "With few exceptions, I write every morning. The lyrics are snapshots of my musical life, key moments and revealing stories, and also my cosmic hippie ideas about music that I won't bore you with here."
Monti's pen injects creative subject matter into "Chicken Shack," an acapella/spoken-word tale set in the early 1900s about "a guy who wakes up in jail after drunkenly assaulting the man who stole his chickens. This guy is pissed and breaks out of this little, rural jailhouse, steals some money, and makes a plan to get his chickens back."
"I could learn a thing or two from my old man" is the hook on the heartfelt standout salute "My Old Man," as Monti consoles his "old man's old man" as they lay Monti's dad to rest in the final verse.