Montrose

The Very Best of Montrose

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Except for a few ill-advised power ballads, Montrose was a hard-driving, head-butting, riff-rattling, non-stop rock machine whose best qualities -- creative guitar playing, hooky melodies, and smart production -- were arguably the blueprint for Van Halen and any number of other similar crunch proto-metalers. As the only compilation of this under-recognized band, The Very Best Of captures 15 highlights from four Warner Bros. albums spanning 1973-1976, and tacks on three difficult to find cuts from 1987's reunion disc on Enigma. While Montrose was a fine fret shredder, there's little that's distinctive about his style. But the songs he applied his fiery six-string frenzy to remain timeless rock should-have-been classics, most of which have been unjustly neglected, and this comprehensive single disc compiles the best of them. With track by track annotation from the guitarist/songwriter/producer (and on one track, singer), remastered sound, well-documented liner notes, as well as full credits, there's little that Rhino could have improved on here. The absence of any Ronnie Montrose solo material, or his work with the band Gamma is understandable, since his style for those projects differed substantially from the hard-grinding groove he pounded out with his self-named band. Although the first eight tunes that cover the Sammy Hagar years (Montrose and Paper Money) are the best known, there's plenty of solid rocking on the other ten tracks. Singer Bob James (not the jazz-fusion pianist) wasn't nearly as magnetic as his better-known predecessor, but his Lou Gramm-styled range suited the material just fine, and the band, whose members changed on almost every album, were always solid, if unremarkable professionals. Tough pile drivers like "Rock Candy," "I Got the Fire," "Let's Go," and "Dancin' Feet," with their chunky, thunderous riffs and lighter-raising yet forgettable lyrics, can get any biker party started, and hearing them all together for the first time makes you wonder why Montrose isn't more highly regarded as an early influence on countless hot guitar rockers. No matter, because this is 76 minutes of undiluted, rugged guitar rock at its finest. Leave your brain cells at home and just enjoy.

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