If you’ve been around the Austin music scene for a while, you’re probably aware of Monte Warden. Beginning his career in the early 1980s at the tender age of fourteen, he fronted the rockabilly trio Whoa, Trigger! Within a few years Warden had formed The Wagoneers, the hipster alt-country outfit. After a three-year run that included a major label signing, constant touring with well-known country stars and much critical acclaim, the group disbanded in 1991. Warden pursued a successful solo career, primarily as a country music songwriter for the likes of George Strait, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Patti Loveless and many others. Voted into the Texas Music Hall Of Fame as a solo artist, he re-united The Wagoneers in 2012 to perform at the band’s induction into the TMHOF and they have been playing together ever since.
Monte Warden and The Dangerous Few, an album released June 19, is certainly a stylistic leap for this dyed-in-the-wool country musician. It was an idea that had been simmering with Warden since 1989 when he saw the film, When Harry Met Sally, and was entranced with a soundtrack that celebrated the Great American Songbook. Why wasn’t anyone writing those kinds of songs anymore, he wondered? In 2015 while recuperating from a broken leg he set out to write in that style and found, with the help of his wife Brandi and pianist/arranger Floyd Domino, he had quite a knack for crafting the types of tunes that were more lyrically and structurally sophisticated than the country songs he was used to writing. The next year he put together a crack band that highlights the formidable jazz chops of trumpeter Erik Telford and pianist T. Jarrod Bonta. For several years, pre-pandemic, the group held down a weekly residency at the Continental Club Gallery. So by the time Warden and company went into Arlyn Studios here in Austin, they knew the material inside out and recorded a live-in-the-studio album in just two days. The sound captures the Monte Warden we’ve known all these years but in a more urbane musical milieu. Imagine Gene Vincent singing Cole Porter and you’ll have an inkling of what to expect. Warden likes to characterize it as “the sound of mid-century modern.” Sporting an original cover by cool cat DerekArt that really captures the spirit of the music, Monty Warden and The Dangerous Few have served us up a real treat.
Review by Peter Babb