Album Review/Artist Interview: Jimmy Montague – ‘Tomorrow’s Coffee

Posted: by The Editor

While Jimmy Montague was obviously joined by session players to round out the horn-laden 70s style on his last record Casual Use, there was a sense of loneliness to that album. It’s clear in the opening line of the record (“spending all my hours in the evening all alone”), but more so in the brooding atmosphere hanging over the tunes. It’s the type of music you might play on a jukebox when you want to sip a double at a sparsely populated dive bar. That late night loneliness is still there on Tomorrow’s Coffee, but there’s a different energy to the latest Montague album—a hunger and drive for the next thing (whatever that may be) that’s as apparent in the title as it is in the emphatic horns, kitchen-sink percussion, and go-for-broke moments that evoke the very heights of the yacht rock current Jimmy Montague is operating in.

On the growth from Casual Use to Tomorrow’s Coffee, Montague said “I found through Casual Use that I liked bringing in players so much that I wanted to increase the cast size. It made the process longer and the scheduling more challenging but the days that we were in the actual studio much more enjoyable. I wanted a more controlled sound and having people that can really play with dynamics goes such a long way. I certainly went in with a fear of not being able to write a cohesive record, but I’ve sort of reconciled with the fact that I write how I write, and it’ll end up sounding cohesive because they’re all my songs.”

The cohesion Montague was looking for is there on Tomorrow’s Coffee, with much of it coming from the increased cast size he mentioned. While Montague handles the keys, bass, and rhythm guitar, he rounded out the band with members of The Most on drums, horns, and lead guitar. It almost goes without saying that the musicians on a record like Tomorrow’s Coffee not only need some incredible chops, but also have to play with a range of emotions and dynamics, and the supporting cast Montague selected is fantastic. Compare the smooth electric-piano led opener “Tell You That You’re Right” with bouncy acoustic guitar and tambourine on “No New Starts (For Broken Hearts)”—both killer tracks that approach the sounds of the 70s from different angles. On the latter, Montague said “I stand by the belief that your best songs will just fall out of you, start to finish, completely by accident. You can hem and haw at a song and you can build up your songwriting craft and really work at something, but I really think that when something natural falls out of you, it’s usually your best. I wrote this one start to finish in a random sudden burst in bed in my apartment in Queens without even really thinking about anything. I don’t remember much about it even other than every word fell out with no edits. When something like that happens every once in a while, I just try not to question it. Sometimes I feel like that’s the only good song on the record haha.”

While it’s certainly not the only good song on Tomorrow’s Coffee, it is one of the best, with a wicked guitar solo that is then topped by the solo that takes out the next tune, “The Smoke After The Kill.” Here, Montague disputes parking tickets and does morning yoga accompanied by subtle horns and marimba. As he’s the bassist in a few punk and emo bands (recently playing on Taking Meds’ excellent Dial M For Meds), it should be noted that the bass work on the record overall—but particularly on active tunes like “The Smoke After The Kill”—is killer, as Montague weaves in different melodies under his steady piano or guitar. 

In the spirit of filling up the liner notes, Montague also filled Tomorrow’s Coffee with vocals from Jess Hall of Oldsoul and Chris Farren. Farren shows up for a verse and guitar solo (sounding great as always) on “All The Same,” while Hall adds classic backing vocals on so many tunes she should really be considered a featured artist here. On the decision to add her vocals throughout the record, Montague said “a singer is just as much an instrument as any other part of the band. So with all the layering we do, different guitars, different key sounds etc etc. layering another vocal with a different timbre accomplishes the same goal. I had always done my own backing vocals on records prior and I got sick of it. I know I can do it, but it doesn’t interest me to do them anymore. Having Jess come in and add a new sound is far more interesting to me than just 6 Me’s stacked on top. It’s not really a novel idea, thousands of records have background singers across them. It might have fallen by the wayside as of late, just due to convenience or style of music or whatever, but it’s a sound that I’ve always liked. Plus, Jess is a great singer and I’d rather hear her than myself any day.”

Like pretty much everything on Tomorrow’s Coffee, Hall’s vocals are precise and perfect for the style, but not in an overly clinical way that forgets the necessary emotion behind the songs. There’s a subtlety necessary for tracks like “Worst Way Possible” that pull so much feeling behind a guitar sliding into the line “pouring coffee into Mason jars” or the hushed “sha la la” vocals from Hall. It also flips into one of the stronger hooks on the record before the band jams out, closing side one of the album. On the track, Montague said “This is an old one that just missed being slotted for Casual Use during writing, although I’m glad it had time to sit. I don’t think I would have thought to go with muted wah trumpet in the outro if I had rushed it, so I’m content with where it landed. It’s the only song on the record with strings this time, but that swell came out so nice with Kate Jackie on cello and Michela Christianson on viola.”

“Worst Way Possible” makes a nice contrast with side two opener “Only One For Me,” which is also a good representation for the record overall. Everything that works on the record shows up in the track with not only another great hook, a nasty guitar solo, and standout moments from the horns and Hall’s vocals, but also some killer percussion. Beyond the tight drumming, Montague seems to have taken the approach to throw in any percussion instrument he had on hand and it’s one of the stronger elements of the record. 

As the side two opener, “Only One For Me” provides a jolt of energy in the way classic records are sequenced. It may not be overly complicated to throw an energetic tune in the middle of the record after pulling back a bit, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hit when done as well as on Tomorrow’s Coffee. With the way most people listen to and find music in 2024, the industry at large seems to care less and less about the sequencing of a record, but it still remains an important part of what makes an album work or not. On the thought process behind the sequencing of Tomorrow’s Coffee, Montague said “sequencing this one proved to be much harder than Casual Use. I tossed it at a handful of people for ideas and they were all wildly different. I learned from my mistake of backloading Casual Use and definitely frontloaded this one with the more upbeat songs. I knew I wanted ‘Tell You’ to open and ‘No Exit’ to close, having similar themes of communication and listening. The rest was just filling in the gaps. I don’t like when songs that have similar lyrics are too near each other, and sometimes that’s hard to avoid if you’re tackling a subject across a record, so most of my trial and error was spent trying to keep certain songs apart. Sometimes a few slip through the cracks and you don’t notice until it’s too late.”

That doesn’t mean the second half of Tomorrow’s Coffee is skippable, as the lively “Only One For Me” is followed by the soulful “Halfway Out The Door,” which features Montague doing one hell of a Michael McDonald impression and a trombone solo that conjures smoky, blue-lit cocktail bars. The urgency underlying much of the record is most apparent on “Here Today (Without You Tomorrow)”—the sweatiest track here, featuring some great percussion and a wah guitar solo that proves not all wah lines have to be as listless and limp as the wet noodle wah riffs on the last Arctic Monkeys record. 

While Montague claims to have frontloaded Tomorrow’s Coffee, it’s “Waiting For You” that has emerged as one of my favorite tracks here the more I listen. Seeming at first like the obligatory late-album ballad, the tune flips on its head a little after the one-minute mark with a massive moment that could easily replace the Phil Collins song in the famous Miami Vice scene as Montague croons “I’m just trying to make it through the night” over a steely guitar line and Hall’s spectral vocals. On the tune, Montague said “I wrote this one at my friend Tim’s apartment in New York during covid, I would sorta just Kramer in and kill time there whenever I could that summer. Just a tune about indecision, which I think everyone stuck in limbo was feeling at that time. Wanted to get a sort of ‘Sun King’ feel out of the song, and Adam nailed the drumming for it.”

Whenever a record is so deliberately rooted in a bygone era like Tomorrow’s Coffee, it’s not hard for the songs to come off as schtick or the artist to seem like they’re cosplaying a style and don’t really have anything to express beyond “I like this type of music” (consider the vacuous 80s nostalgia on Take The Sadness Out of Saturday Night). It’s a delicate undertaking, but Jimmy Montague nails it. Of course the band sounds tight and the arrangements are frankly incredible, but the songwriting is also strong and the feeling behind the record is so genuine that you get the impression Montague almost had no choice but to wrap up his urgent musings in the slick sounds of the 70s.

Tomorrow’s Coffee is out everywhere today.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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