Andy Budd – Ragtop Monterey (2011)

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The story of how country folk/Americana performer Andy Budd came to make this record is uniquely American. A car dealer by day, Budd always wanted to be a country singer. With support from his family and staff, that dream was made real on Ragtop Montgomery, recorded in Nashville with veteran producer Chip Hardy (Waylon Jennings, Reba McIntyre, George Strait). In keeping, the album often reflects the nation’s long-held wandering spirit, its soaring desire for adventure. They’ll be time for tales about trucks and girls, and for a few family remembrances, along the way.

“Old Freight,” the restless opening track on Ragtop Montgomery, rattles out with a melancholy wail. “I need sunshine on my shoulders,” Budd sings, with a knotty confidence. Meanwhile, buying a new car, in the title track, becomes a symbol of new freedom. A young man, on his way out of his parents’ home, stops to take in the wisdom of years from his mother on “Bread Upon the Water.” Referencing a number of truisms about life, some Biblical, Budd explores the larger questions that face every traveller.

While a sense of exploration, of heading on to new things, permeates Ragtop Montgomery, Budd takes time for a peek or two in the rearview mirror. It wouldn’t be a country record without a few broken-hearted laments, anyway, and Budd nails them. “Don’t Bother Calling,” framed by Smith Curry’s oh-so-lonesome steel guitar, is perhaps the album’s most conventional track, but it’s sung with deep conviction. “Time Won’t Do It” catches a second gear, turning a simple reflection on loss into this soaring anthem for the forlorn. On the swaying “Ol’ Work Truck,” he falls in love with a beat-up vehicle with a for-sale sign on the dash. The tune eventually becomes a celebration of “the skill and strength of the working man from days gone by.” Budd’s carefully crafted “Godspeed” reflects on a life-long fellowship in the long days after a friend’s passing. He doesn’t get lost in these quiet moments, though. They pass like highway markers, as Budd moves on to the next thought, the next tall tale. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and a flinty sense of humor underscores the homespun brilliance of Ragtop Monterey.

“If You Did That Today” takes a winking look back at the innocent, sometimes dangerous ways of yesteryear, from riding a motorcycle without a helmet to a mom’s dearly departed trust in society at large. “She left us in the car when she went into the grocery store,” the Warrenton, Virginia, resident remembers. “You can’t get away from that stuff anymore.” Budd’s clearly having fun as he continues to tick off a series of long-gone traditions over a shambling bluegrass-inspired beat. There’s walking home alone from school and smoking while pregnant, driving without a seatbelt and playing with fireworks. “They’d throw your ass in jail if you did that today,” he merrily concludes. “They’d send out Social Services and take your kids away.”

Later, on “He’s Still Missing Her,” Budd recounts the story of a dysfunctional relationship through the eyes of a group of buddies who insisted that this woman was bad news from the start. “Bought that danged engagement ring,” Budd cries, in obvious wonder, as Hank Singer saws happily away on the fiddle. “I can’t believe he sold his boat to buy that stupid thing.” After the guy finally gets fed up, Budd adds a light-hearted twist. “He’s still missing her, but his aim’s getting better,” Budd sings. “He’s gonna take her out, but it won’t be for dinner.”

Finally, we learn about the childhood travails of a pair of trouble-making siblings in “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” which begins with a perfectly appropriate electric-guitar squall by Coleman Murphy. “The two of us,” Budd adds, “lived up to our Daddy’s fears and our Momma’s tears.”

As Ragtop Monterey disappears over the next ridge, you imagine Budd’s steel-toed boot mashing the gas pedal all the way down. He’s hopeful, maybe a little scared, but there remains the last twinkling of a smile.

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