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Montana - A Love Story

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Album Review

A love letter to his home state, Montana: A Love Story is George Winston's most varied album since 1999's Plains and probably his most personal album, ever. His last album — 2002's Night Divides the Day — focused on his first musical inspiration, the Doors. Montana goes deeper into his heart, back to childhood memories of his family's house, lullabies, and first encounters with songs that would later hold great personal meaning. It's this kind of genuine wonder of it all that makes Montana so great. Winston is freer than usual on some of the tracks, playing like France's most precious dreamer, Erik Satie, must have; sometimes with great care and sometimes open-ended. On "Valse Frontenac," Winston stops on what seems like the second-to-last note, a cliffhanger move Satie might have pulled on you in anything-goes-Paris circa 1900 or so. Like so many other moments on the album, it's fragile, but purposeful enough to not be maudlin. Surrounding these peculiar twists with popular nostalgia like "Goodnight Irene" and that song to which you first danced with a girl — in Winston's case it's Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" — are more common moments with no less sincerity, and it keeps Montana from being an album only Winston understands. His brief but informative liner notes also help the listener relate, but the varied repertoire might surprise — or at worst, alienate — those who only know his "one mood" albums. Moving away from the mood-based albums like December and Autumn lets the pianist get risky and play things by a diverse group of folk like the 19th century composer Rentaro Taki and Frank Zappa, whose "The Little House I Used to Live In" goes from cerebral to homey in Winston's caring, miniature interpretation. You see "Montana" on the cover and "Zappa" in the credits and you think you're going to sing, "Moving to Montana soon/Going to be a dental floss tycoon," but that's not Winston; too obvious. He always hints he knows, and then goes and plays it the way he wants to: not overly academic, but heartfelt, and with nothing to prove. It's made his detractors declare his music "wallpaper," but they'll have a hard time doing that with Montana. Don't let it scare you. The little bits of dissonance are tempered with welcoming warmth and heart. Montana is filled with the goods and bads, the regrets and triumphs of home, and all the sentimentality and peculiarity of going back. The way Winston sorts it all out is fascinating and anything but wallpaper. [This version of the album contains bonus material.]


Born: 1949 in Michigan

Genre: New Age

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Self-described "rural folk piano" player George Winston was among the earliest and most successful proponents of the genre of contemporary instrumental music later dubbed new age. Although born in Michigan in 1949, he was raised primarily in Montana, the extreme seasonal changes he experienced there later greatly influencing the pastoral feel of his music. Even as a child, Winston preferred instrumental music over vocal performances, counting among his early heroes Booker T. & the MG's, Floyd Cramer,...
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Montana - A Love Story, George Winston
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