John Michael Montgomery

Letters from Home

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Theoretically, the record that follows a greatest-hits album offers artists an opportunity to redefine themselves, to try something new, or at least jump to a new label. On Letters From Home, John Michael Montgomery's first album since the comprehensive 2003 collection The Very Best Of, the country singer doesn't do any of these things. He's continuing in the mellow, nostalgic direction of his last album, 2002's Pictures, toning down some of his rowdier ways and settling into middle age. He's not alone in retreating toward the familiar. Many of his peers have also spent much of the first part of the 2000s basking in nostalgia and patriotism, which is a reasonable response to 9/11. Unlike Toby Keith or Alan Jackson, Montgomery never mentions the terrorist attacks explicitly on Letters From Home, but the title track is from the perspective of a soldier overseas and on "That's What I'm Talking About" he turns away from the talk of war by slipping under the covers. The entire album is basked in a warm, burnished nostalgia, which suits Montgomery's rich baritone well, even if the preponderance of slow songs can make the record a little sleepy; even the handful of faster songs, such as the endearingly silly "It Rocked" and the closer, "Little Devil" (which is the closest this comes to honky tonk, thanks to its sawing fiddle and twangy guitars), are relaxed, not energized, which actually helps give the album cohesion. The end result is not Montgomery's best album, but it's a sturdy work that showcases the country crooner what he does best: smoothly singing heartache tunes, odes to the past, and love songs. It may not be a new beginning, but fans aren't likely to complain, either.

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