10x10

Ronnie Montrose

When I interviewed Ronnie Montrose in 2011, one comment he made resonated to my core: “I realized that early on that your muse is very important to follow.” Even in my darkest hour, following my muse has kept me on track. That’s how it worked with Montrose. He could have easily rested on his laurels from the acclaim for his band's self-titled debut. And to a degree, he did as his sets in recent years overflowed with material from the album. “These 40-year-old songs that I penned when I was in my 20s are still loved by people,” he said when I asked him why he continues to play “Bad Motor Scooter, “Rock The Nation,” and “Rock Candy.”

Yet there was so much more to Ronnie Montrose. Four albums with his second band Gamma whet his appetite to expand on the hard rock idiom. Numerous solo records, most prominently 1978’s Open Fire, provided an outlet for experimentation. And now we have 10x10 to show the world that push to explore sonic landscapes was something Ronnie Montrose pursued to the very end.

Styx bassist Ricky Phillips and KISS drummer Eric Singer, who began the project with Montrose in the early 00s, are behind the long-awaited release of 10x10. It was built on a simple concept: Record 10 songs with 10 different singers. Conflicting schedules and commitments presented challenges to finishing the record, and so it sat uncompleted after Montrose’s untimely passing in 2012. Undeterred, Phillips and Singer decided, with the blessing of Montrose's widow Leighsa, to pick up the reigns and put it to bed. Altogether, 10x10 serves as a fitting epilogue to Montrose’s storied journey and features an array of friends and followers to lend a hand.

In addition to the vocals, the songs needed lead guitar, something Montrose apparently never got around to recording. Which isn’t to say he isn’t playing the guitar; he provided the “main guitar” on every track. Like everything he’s done before, that distinctive Montrose tone drives the whole record. Still, most of the songs got an extra kick with a guest soloist. Y & T’s Dave Meniketti takes the album’s first solo on the opening “Heavy Traffic,” which features Mr. Big’s Eric Martin wrapping his high-energy pipes around Montrose’s biting riff.

For “Love Is An Art,” Montrose told Edgar Winter, “I just want it to be real,” and, once you hear it, you realize Winter got the message. This slow, roving blues number has Winter caterwauling the lyrics during the verses, booming out the chorus, then trading licks on the sax with Rick Derringer’s guitar. Sammy Hagar goes deep on “Color Blind,” another blues-based tome that gets a lift from Montrose's drawling chords and Steve Lukather’s spine-tingling solo. Glenn Hughes, with a little help from Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, delivers the goods on “Still Singin’ With The Band,” and Tommy Shaw efficiently covers both the vocals and guitar solo on “Strong Enough.”

Things heat up when Grand Funk Railroad founder Mark Farner takes on “Any Minute.” Montrose’s framework allows the once mighty shirtless wonder to belt it out and strut through a sizzling lead. The same can be said about “The Kingdom’s Come Undone,” which has Phillips singing, playing bass, guitar, and keyboards, pushed ahead by Singer’s incessant drumming, Montrose’s inimitable shredding, and Joe Bonamassa’s stinging solos. Former Foreigner Bruce Turgon offers up an impressive vocal on “One Good Reason,” but the song is really a showcase for Montrose’s steady rhythm and Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford leads. Gamma singer Davey Pattison and guitarist Marc Bonilla make the most of “Head On Straight,” another track with an insatiable Montrose chord progression that must have had the other players salivating at the chance to be part of it.

10x10 winds down with “I’m Not Lying,” which features keyboardist and singer Gregg Rolie, a founding member of both Santana and Journey, on cruise control, his smooth voice traversing around Montrose’s sleight-of-hand guitar work, inspired by Robin Trower and suspended by Foreigner’s Thom Gimbel and his soulful sax. It would be difficult to spin through this collection without recognizing Montrose’s genius at bringing out the best in other musicians, even when he isn’t there. It’s no wonder 10x10 is the ultimate testament to Ronnie Montrose’s legacy as a man who continuously followed his muse.

~ Shawn Perry

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