You don't know what you've been missin'
Popular strummer-about-town Colin Boyd--most recently the author of "Peggy Sue Went Surfin'"--is certainly haunted by Buddy Holly's ghost, but the former Cricket's shade also makes it over to Austin to spook around Monte Warden's house. You could make a case for Warden as Austin's version of Rhett Miller: his first band, the rockabilly Whoa, Trigger!--garnered major attention when Warden was but 15. He went on to lead the roots-country aggregation the Wagoneers and released his eponymous solo debut in 1993. Monte Warden was loaded with the kind of unapologetic pop hookery that recalled halls decked with boughs of Holly, Roy Orbison, and Bobby Fuller, and was full of sock-hop enthusiasm driven by guitar lines as clean as a Lubbock sunrise.
A first-rate songwriter, Warden has written for Patty Loveless, Kelly Willis (with whom he sang a duet on Monte Warden), and Toni Price. His 1995 album Here I Am showed Warden's foundations to be solid enough to build upon: disillusioned romantic ruminations a la the Everly Brothers, horn-driven Stax/Volt-type rave-ups, and the usual Petty-esque (Norman and Tom) power-pop. Like Chris Isaak, Warden is matinee-idol handsome, yet smart and devoted enough to avoid coming off like a pretty piece of fluff. He rocks it like he means it and is unafraid to put his heart--whether bursting or breaking--on the pedestal of a song.
Like Isaak, Warden knows that that palpable commitment is what allows frisky pop numbers ("The Way I Feel"), heartbroken tear-jerkers ("Do You Remember"), and other exercises in form to sound fresh and new rather than ripped off or recycled. Like the great Roy Orbison, Warden also knows that toe-tapping, chart-topping bounce doesn't mean that song can't reflect loss, despair, or confusion, as Monte Warden's "Feel Better" does: "I wanna run, but I don't know where...I'd have to feel better just to die." Live, Warden displays even more finesse and fire, and his shows prove over and over why pop is real and unlikely to fade away.