Entry for August 18, 2005

by

Montage

Montage

Laurie SLP 2049

(Sundazed CD reissue, 2001)

Tracks: I Shall Call Her Mary/She’s Alone/Grand Pianist/Men Are Building Sand/Desiree/The Song Is Love/Tinsel And Ivy/An Audience With Miss Priscilla Gray/My Love/Wake Up, Jimmy (Something’s Happening Outside)

Recorded: Allegro Sound Studios, 1968.

Released: 1969. Chart peak: na (US)

Personnel: Bob Steurer (voc), Vance Chapman (voc, dr), Mike Smyth (gtr, voc), Lance Cornelius (bs, voc), Mike Brown (kybd, vocal arrangements) Engineer: Bruce Staple. Producer: Mike Brown.

*Rare side project by Left Banke pop genius offers offers same glimmer of talent that powered “Walk Away Renee” 

Just one of too few documents displaying the talents of Michael Brown, the former prodigy who placed the Left Banke in the pantheon of ’60s pop greats, this brief but fascinating record carries on the melodic tradition of the pianist/writer’s former band. Though officially not a member of this young quartet, producer Brown dominates every aspect of this album–providing vocal arrangements, all keyboards, and, most importantly, the songwriting. In some ways more of a sequel to the Left Banke’s glorious 1967 debut LP than was 1969’s Left Bank Too–which barely featured the departed Brown, but was nonetheless excellent–Montage is a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been.

The chronology is confusing. The on-again/off-again relationship that haunted Brown and his former group at one point resulted in two bands functioning  under the same Left Banke name; following an attempt at a reconciliation by the two parties, resulting in the superb 1967 single “Desiree,” Brown left again and “discovered” the four-piece Montage. Conveniently, the latter band re-recorded “Desiree” and produced it in album form first; a month later, the Left Banke’s original version showed up on the long-delayed Left Banke Too, which aside from “In The Morning Light” (recorded at the earlier reconciliation session) otherwise lacked Browne’s input entirely.

Sharing writing credits with Bert Sommer and Tom Feher on the Montage album, Brown utilized many of the same classical motifs that peppered his Left Banke repertoire. Standout tracks “I Shall Call Her Mary,” “She’s Alone” and “Men Are Building Sand” are particularly impressive, but nothing fails to please overall. It should be pointed out, however, that for all their vocal prowess, no one in the Montage boasted as distinctive a voice as Left Banke singer Steve Martin’s.  By the end of ’69, Brown had again reunited with Martin in the studio for the final Left Banke single (“Myrah”);  a year or so later, a near-fully reconstituted band recorded “Love Songs In The Night,” soon released solely credited to Steve Martin. In fact, that track can be found on the 1972 soundtrack to Ultra Violet’s Hot Parts–right alongside two Montage tracks. Quoth the liner notes: “The ill-fated Montage were a group discovered by Michael Brown. The coming together of these fine voices held great magic and potential, but the promise was never fulfilled.” And that, as usual, is the way it goes.

Further listening:  There’s Gonna Be A Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966-1969 (Left Banke compilation, 1992)

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