11 October 2009 (gig)
11 October 2009
Malta's country music scene has seen an encouraging amount of newcomers, however such a situation does not necessarily mean that the scene is as such, the most healthy around. Indeed a few talents like Marty Rivers has managed to attract attention in Nashville while more veteran talents like Marlene and The Country Brothers remained more or less conservative. In between lies John Montana, a name that is bound to attract attention not least because the surname is also the same as the popular Disney Channel series, featuring Miley Cyrus. The name also evokes memories of a popular almost legendary controversial personality in New York some six decades ago. Johnny Montana comes out more inclined towards Miley Cyrus and her relative innocence rather than the latter, whose connections extended into politics just as they extended into mafia. Of course, there is another John Montana--he was the gigolo in the film featuring the same name, but that of course is another story, which the local Maltese artiste would not even think about!
I lately caught up with John, whom I knew as a DJ and a lead singer with rock band Centaur some 20 years ago. Now he is very much comfortable in country music and lately has released a CD of cover versions. So how did he feel switching to country? John thinks that there is quite a lot of country rock in his repertoire but then his roots ever since he was young were in country music. John lived for quite some time in the USA and has time and again travelled to the USA. He has retained an American accent and well, this experience has had some bearing on his career. As a result, his new, debut CD reflects changes in country music over the past years... it also shows a certain commitment even though it is a CD of cover versions which span the likes of Elvis, Buck Owens and Garth Brooks. Its approach is sincere and very much down to earth, unpretentious and coaxing, and a well-balanced affair, even technical-wise, considering the limited budget involved. But then, would we be seeing John Montana writing his own songs or getting others to write for him as many country artists do? John insists it will be yes to both however, 'I would much prefer pairing up with someone who would write music to my lyrics' he added when I recently interviewed him.
Nowadays, country music tends to have become more diversified, with many new artistes inclined towards pop and rock infusions. The likes of Carrie Underwood have fared successfully with this formula but it has also irked quite a lot of critics and fans, not least myself who tend to view these talents as sell-outs. Some others like Taylor Swift have been more adventurous with their mix of country, pop and roots. John is not really moved by image and publicity though he does agree that things have become far more competitive than ever before. 'As long as there are committed valid talents, newcomers can only help country music regenerate itself and hence prevent its downfall, as it had in previous years.' John would really love to try his luck in beloved America given the chance but he isn't faring bad locally. 'I mean, a challenge is always welcome but then, I am quite happy with my work here in Malta, though we do seem to be stepping over one another' he added.
John, who is now 40-something is more of a traditionalist. He is not at all happy with the way the electric guitar has found itself so prominent in country music, and as such would prefer the new Americana scene, as long as it keeps itself country by not negating its roots. 'Country music essentially involves acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar and violins and the fact that there is so much rock in country concerns me. I am a country rock fan myself but there is country rock and country rock'. I feel that with more interest and commitment, John can move on in country music. Yes, this is a style which would allow anyone, irrespective of creed, age and colour to join in, as long as he really means what he is doing.