Kelsey Montanez; Bringing the Blues Back [REVIEW]
By Zoe Elerby
It’s no secret that Chicago has its fair share of inspiring artists, however, some of the best are simply glanced at or completely ignored. But when an artist actively pursues that quietness and embraces being unknown, their art only becomes more prevalent. It makes Chicago music lovers think: “Why haven’t I heard of them before?”
One of these artists is singer/songwriter Kelsey Montanez, a gem in the sandy beaches of music making. Montanez is a fun-loving, kind-hearted young woman with a clear passion for music. She has been inspired by the beauty of blues, the cheeriness of pop and the smokey tone of psychedelia. Montanez has 117 monthly listeners on Spotify, her first single “Everything is Fine”, which was released in June, has over 4,000 listens. And for good reason, Montanez has a voice that can match the beloved Amy Winehouse, causing the hair on the back of your neck to stand up as she sings to her target audience. Her newest song “Let Me Love You” is a perfect example of that.
“Let Me Love You” has a very simple premise; a strong woman trying to seduce another. The song begins with a slow, melodic guitar rift as the listener waits for the lyrics to hit their eardrums. When the lyrics begin, there is immediate weight to the words Montanez is singing.
With the gentle cymbals and the simple yet sensual blues guitar, the song is reminiscent of sitting in a velvet lounge with the beautiful voice of Montanez as she sings to her lover. She sings directly to her object of affection, calling them pet names and keeping her voice seductive and soft, almost as if she was speaking to the listener. She contrasts her affection for this person with how others see her, it’s clear in the song, and in her voice, that she is strong-headed.
“Baby, don’t underestimate my love. I’m a lot tougher. than I look, it’s crazy what they say about me: they say I’m strange and wild but I let you read me like an open book. But only you.”
Despite being aware of her strength, Montanez sings to her lover kindly, as if they’ve weakened her enough for her to attempt to persuade them into becoming her lover.
“If you let me love you, honey I can promise, I only want to please you.”
“Could I get any more real? Could I bear how I feel any more than this?”
The song isn’t about failing to have a lover, it isn’t about having one either. The story is that middle ground where one person realizes their feelings and is coming to terms with them by admitting to their lover that they want them over anything else. I say that Montanez’s voice and the song itself is reminiscent of a velvet lounge because of the purposeful slowness. Montanez allows the guitar and drums to hold most of the song as she takes long pauses before breathing beautiful lyrics to the listener.
“Never gonna lie, never gonna put you down, never gonna run around. Baby, let me love you.”
Montanez’s voice is like the gentle touch of a lover, she manages to put so much yearning into just a few lines, which she sings slowly, purposefully, so that the listener understands the message. She perfectly captures the essence of the blues genre, especially on a woman’s side. Montanez may be one of Chicago’s hidden gems but she is a spark to help stoke the fire of the blues genre and bring it back to the mainstream. “Let Me Love You” is set to release on September 2nd on all music streaming platforms.
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Kelsey Montanez is one of Chicago’s best kept secrets. Both intimate and ecstatic, smokey and scorching, her potent blend of blues, pop, and psychedelia has been turning heads for over a decade. Among the singer-songwriter’s many talents, it’s Montanez’s arresting voice that has captured a devoted fanbase.
It comes as no surprise that her visceral 2013 EP “A Delightful Sadness” scored her a record contract and music video with Chance the Rapper on lead single “Out of Sight.” True to her strong sense of independence, Montanez subsequently opted to pursue her own uncompromising artistic vision. It took a pandemic worth of isolation and heartbreak to transform that raw power into the refined spectacle that is her first record in over a decade.
Bolstered by the pristine production of Bill Karambelas and internationally acclaimed session musicians, her music is both transcendent and catchy, demonstrating the songwriter’s range and ability to transform deeply personal lyrics into searing and seductive rock. While conjuring vocalists like Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill, Montanez possesses her own unmistakable voice.
Kelsey Montanez has been listed in the Chicago REDEYE as “15 artists to Watch” and celebrated in the Chicago Reader and Chicago Tribune. Montanez has headlined prominent Chicago venues such as the Metro, House of Blues, as well as festivals such as SXSW. Recently, Montanez was awarded the 2020 Magellan Musician in Residence at the historic Aqua Building.