Album Review: Monte Pride’s ‘Even in Absence’

. August 24, 2020.
Image courtesy of Shaina Mahler

I keep to a couple of my own theories about folk music, and Lansing-based singer/songwriter Monte Pride is subtly, and even gracefully, confirming them on his new album, Even In Absence. If we distilled our motivation for listening to music in terms of the rewards that a finely-crafted song can provide for its listener, it is invariably for escapism, catharsis, and a readjustment of our perspectives. When you listen to the songs of Pride, there is an intensive intimacy to them, demonstrated in the comparably minimalist instrumentation (guitar, violin, occasional pedal-steel), to where you’ll feel like you’re in the room with him as he’s recording, but there’s also those poignant, soul-baring timbres he hits with his wispy, mid-to-high, lilting vocals melodies, and his lyrics, which are a mixture of confessions, pleas, meditations, and odes — above all, honesty and vulnerability are prevailing themes in each of these 10 songs.

And my “theories” about folk music concern when we tend to need this genre. Specifically, at what points in life do we immerse ourselves in (mostly) acoustic music that accentuates both the fragility and the resolve of the human voice? For me, it was always in the wintertime — which, as Dickens would tell you, tends to be a time when “discontent” will loom large amid the grey and the dark. People tend to talk about music in abstractions when it comes to the ways in which it can improve our mood and influence our senses, and so you’ll indulge me when I say that this album, for me, feels like ten individual bonfires that Pride ignites over tinder and stokes softly, letting it crackle out it’s mellifluous embers as we repose, quietly, listening to his next series of sentiments and thoughts on subjects of pain and hope and bereavement and fortitude. Folk music can feel, again—forgive the abstraction, like a source of warmth. And maybe we aren’t living in the wintertime quite yet, but there is, unquestionably, a monumental discontent that has hung over the land lo-these-past five months.

Cover photography, embroidery, and design also by Shaina Mahler, final editing by Eric Patrick Kelly.

Pride writes at a tempo that regulates the pulse, and he finds melodies that sound somewhere between a lullaby and a hymn, patiently arranging all the words for a comprehensive summoning of empathy – he can be blunt and forthright when needed, but flourish a more eloquent and poetic phrase to adorn the verses and bridges. But what’s quietly shimmering as a standout on all of these songs is his vibrant guitar phrases, added an extra elegance by his finger-picking style. There’s also a strong sense of dynamics, knowing when the voice should be full and soaring, and when it should be breathy and descending — particularly well matched with the encouraging and sometimes consoling wording that he’ll choose for his lyrics. But even more iridescence is added by the plaintive beauty of those accompanying instruments, be it those pedal-steel warbles, or the chiming pianos, or the calming violin.

My theories about folk music tend to revolve around how it can warm the soul and even heal it, adding a brightness when our days are darkened. But, more so than escapism, more so than the way pop music or otherwise up-tempo, high-energy music might give you a fleeting, albeit instantaneous catharsis, music like Pride feels like it is the soundtrack for a journey. It can take a long time to heal. It can also take a long time to get to the point where you’re able to reflect upon everything that’s happened and process all those emotions. This album is a soundtrack for that process. It isn’t instantaneous, but these tones, these melodies, these words, can make it easier, and even make the days brighter, if even just a little.

For more on Monte Pride’s work and to keep up with his latest albums, check out his website.

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