The Montvales “Born Strangers”

Independent, 2023

Subtle, beautiful observations and a blast of activism.

The Montvales Album Art "Born Strangers"There are a few videos out there showing this folk duo performing together. Their songs are a pleasant mix of banjo-and-guitar coupled with very nice harmonies. Make no mistake, these ladies have done their ten thousand hours. On ‘Born Strangers’, Sally Buice and Molly Rochelson have hired help from a band of Nashville musicians. Assembled at Tractor Shed Studio, by producer Mike Eli LoPinto, we get Aaron Goodrich on drums, Hank Long on keys, Alex Lyon on bass, Eddie Dunlap on pedal steel, Josie Toney on fiddle and Holden Bitner on cello. Buice and Rochelson’s instruments, and their distinctive harmonies are still very much to the fore but the band’s additional layers really enhance these twelve tracks and give some much-needed variety and drive.

Buice and Rochelson are originally from Tennessee but have spent the best part of the post pandemic years operating out of Cincinnati. About the songs on the album Rochelson says, “we were both really intensely reckoning with what kind of lives we wanted to lead and also interrogating the cultural legacies that have influenced what freedom even means to us. Turns out there’s a lot of stuff in there about money and gender and place“.

There’s much to admire. The first track ‘Woman of God’ sets out the album’s musical format. The lyrics come from some worrying observations but ultimately hold on to the discipline of hope. The title track ‘Born Strangers’ has a a glorious opening verse, “If I make it through this winter/ With my dignity intact/ It’ll be a goddamn miracle/ And just because I miss you/ Doesn’t mean I want you back”. ‘Lou’ is a beautiful song, one that doesn’t need the full baking of the band. Just a bit of pedal steel conjuring up a backdrop of farms and ranches… a female Brokeback mountain? ‘One More Winter’ is equally as beautiful. A heart felt song about motherhood.

Not everything works. ‘Ring Around the Moon’ is fun but not such a strong track. Is there a nod to Def Leppard there? “Pour some sugar on Me”. The magnificent Jenny Lewis gets name-checked on ‘New Year’s Eve’. The band keeps ‘Ghost Show’ alive but struggles to rescue the final song ‘Through the Night’. The harmonies also sound conflicting on this one as the album’s energy wanes.

The outstanding track is ‘Bad Faith’. Last month an ex-president of the US, boasted on Fox News about the ‘miracle’ of ending the constitutional right to abortion. It has become illegal in the state of Tennessee. In Scotland, MSPs are the last in the UK to introduce a bill stopping protests outside abortion clinics. Rochelson sings: “Everybody’s got something to say/ They’re yelling from the sidewalk/ Or they’re building signs/ Along the interstate”. Rochelson says the abortion conversation gets lost in a haze of propaganda and politics. “I’ve always felt really passionately about centering the actual lived realities of people who have abortions”. She wrote the song… “to speak directly to that experience and to validate the humanity of people who have had an abortion”. Molly Rochelson has bravely written a deeply personal and poignant song that should be on all politicians playlist.

Baby don’t waste your time/ On some sonofabitch out there looking for a fight”.


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