For Cincinnati-based folk duo The Montvales, presenting a robust and woman-centric voice is an integral part of the art of making music. The personally held beliefs of singer-songwriters Sally Buice and Molly Rochelson infuse the duo’s first full band-supported record, “Born Strangers,” which releases February 2.
The website for The Montvales described the spirit of the music: It’s all described as a series of unexpected – but enticing – juxtapositions. The duo strikes a balance between “catchy and lonesome.” The onstage attitude is “raucous” as much as it is “reverent,” and the sound offers “equal parts honky-tonk mischief and earnest meditation on friendship, heartbreak and place.”
Original clawhammer banjo and guitar music – written individually or co-written in tandem – focuses on harmonies. Here, Buice and Rochelson recorded for the first time with the backing of a full band. While their 2019 debut album Heartbreak Summer Camp was more of a stripped-down affair, this sophomore record – which Buice said “kinda goes across the folk and country spectrum” – promises to broaden the duo’s sonic landscape. It’s the first time they’re putting out music they describe as having a “full” sound.
The group began among two friends raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. They cut their performance
teeth in street busking in Knoxville’s Market Square and eventually landed on the local Americana radio station, WDVX. They have since graduated to a packed touring schedule that includes almost 100 dates yearly. They are looking forward to two special appearances: a full-band album release show in their home city and another in their newly adopted base. The first will happen on February 2 at the Woodward Theater in Cincinnati and the other at Barley’s Taproom in Knoxville on February 10.
The 12-track Born Strangers was recorded at sound engineer Sean Sullivan’s Tractor Shed Studio and was produced by Chris Stapleton guitarist Mike Eli LoPinto. Contributing Nashville musicians include Aaron Goodrich (drums), Hank Long (keys), Alex Lyon (bass), Eddie Dunlap (pedal steel), Josie Toney (fiddle), and Holden Bitner (cello).
“Woman of God” – the record’s first track, co-written by Buice and Rochelson – is described as a “banjo-driven, tent revival-style folk rager and meditation on the discipline of hope.” And there it is again…that contrast. Rager. Meditation. Other tracks promise motifs of everything from bucolic life to “the weirdos of Knoxville.”
Addressing issues ranging from self-determination to money, the record is also infused with opinions on gender. According to both performers, music allows each to express deeply-held beliefs – such as thoughts on reproductive freedom – in a way they believe might be more unrestrained and effective than what other communication methods might allow. This freedom to express a range of beliefs – popular, unpopular, controversial, mundane, weird, hyper-personal, or anything in between – lures many to make a life of music. The power of this isn’t lost on The Montvales.
Rochelson said it’s easier for her to change minds on topics close to her heart by using “music and storytelling” to communicate. She said she has found the voices of women are “often interrupted,” but there’s a sense in which music provides a more certain outlet.
“When I write a song,” Rochelson asserted simply, “I’m not interrupted for the whole course of the song.”
Buice expressed a similar sentiment about what music does in facilitating the free exchange of ideas. It’s something some of their musical heroes understood well, acts such as The Indigo Girls and The Chicks. The Montvales clearly aim to be just as forthright.
“Being socialized as southern women, it can be unclear how much space to take up,” Buice explained. “I see other women taking up space through music, and I’m really grateful for it.”