Montgomery, Michael John

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Born: Danville, Kentucky, 20 January 1965

Genre: Country

Best-selling album since 1990: Kickin' It Up (1994)

Hit songs since 1990: "I Swear," "I Can Love You Like That"

John Michael Montgomery represents the pop end of the 1990s country axis, his unassuming voice and slick albums more suggestive of 1970s rock group the Eagles than hard-driving country singers of the past such as Merle Haggard. Although his early work attempted to capture some of the toughness associated with the "new traditionalist" movement in 1980s and early 1990s countrypropagated by artists such as George Strait and Alan Jacksonthat influence wore off after his first few albums. By the mid-1990s, country music as a whole had turned in a smoother direction, and Montgomery was at the vanguard of this change with tuneful hits such as "I Swear" and "I Can Love You Like That." Unlike his contemporary Martina McBride, who sought to balance her traditional roots with the new popularity of country-pop, Montgomery changed his image little from album to album. In this way, he typifies the country "hunk in a hat" popular in the 1990s, his appeal largely derived from startlingly blue eyes, dimples, and a toothy smile.

Growing up in Danville, Kentucky, Montgomery initially learned guitar playing from his father. Joined by his drum-playing mother, Montgomery performed in the family band from an early age and took over as lead singer at seventeen when his parents divorced. Discovered while singing at the Austin City Saloon in Lexington, Kentucky, Montgomery signed with Atlantic Records and released his debut album, Life's a Dance, in 1992. A well-rounded collection of catchy ballads and swinging uptempo tunes, it brought Montgomery a degree of commercial success, although critics agree his occasional attempts at an aggressive neo-traditional style sound forced. His voice, weak in its upper register and sometimes off-pitch, is more suited to less demanding pop songs, such as the gentle "I Swear," a centerpiece of his second album, Kickin' It Up (1994).

By the time of his self-titled third release in 1995, Montgomery had hit upon a successful formula for each album: several lighthearted, humorous songs such as "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)," with most of the remaining tracks given over to plush ballads with greeting-card sentiments, such as the smash hit, "I Can Love You Like That" (1995): "You like romantic movies / you never will forget / the way you felt when Romeo kissed Juliet." Later albums show little sign of artistic growth; despite its title, Brand New Me (2000) is more of the same thing, comprised largely of mawkish ballads such as "The Little Girl." Appeasing the religious, right wing element of country's fan base, the lugubrious song begins with parents who "never took the young girl to church," then details the horrors that ensue: drugs, physical abuse, and, eventually, spouse killing and suicide. By the song's end, the girl has experienced religious salvation due to foster parents who introduce her to Sunday school.

John Michael Montgomery helped steer country music in an increasingly pop direction in the 1990s. While performers such as Dolly Parton sought a return to their country roots, or worked to integrate their traditional impulses within contemporary formats, Montgomery has largely maintained his unchallenging country-pop style throughout his career.


Life's a Dance (Atlantic, 1992); Kickin' It Up (Atlantic, 1994); John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic, 1995); What I Do the Best (Atlantic, 1996); Leave a Mark (Atlantic, 1998); Home to You (Atlantic, 1999); Brand New Me (Atlantic, 2000); Pictures (Warner Bros., 2002).


david freeland

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Montgomery, Michael John

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