What do you call a band that wears its outlaw country and classic country & western influences on its sleeve, with dashes of rock, blues, alternative, and good time bar-band thrown into the mix? In this case, you call them Nineteen Hand Horse, a band that’s anything but a one-trick pony. Nineteen Hand Horse brings a rich pedigree to its debut album, Revel, set for release on May 21. This Northern California-based group also brings authenticity, country soul and a wealth of experience to Revel, along with the unique male/female singer/songwriter partnership of Nathalie Archangel and Mark Anthony Montijo, a pair that harkens back to the glory days of George and Tammy, Johnny and June, and Dolly and Porter.
Revel may be Nineteen Hand Horse’s first album, but the band members are no strangers to the music industry. Nathalie Archangel, a double platinum songwriter for her work on Bette Miller’s Some People’s Lives album, spent the early part of her music career recording well-received but under-promoted pop albums for Columbia and MCA. These did foreshadow the future, as Nathalie penned a couple of wonderful duets and enlisted the likes of Frankie Valli and Howard Jones as vocal partners on her MCA release, Owl. Nathalie has also worked with such luminaries as Greg Penny, Don Was and David Kahne, among a constellation of others.
Mark Montijo grew up on a horse ranch a stone’s throw from Spade Cooley’s old place near Willow Springs, California, where the sounds of Bakersfield on AM country radio were as abundant as sage brush, keggers and hot desert nights. Moving to Los Angeles, Mark formed a power trio called Dogs on Fire, which landed Duran Duran’s coveted opening-act slot at the Los Angeles Forum, but ultimately broke up prior to hitting big. Mark and Nathalie both left the music industry in disappointment and disgust. Sometime after, coincidentally, each settled into work in healthcare, where the two met, fell in love and were married. Mark became a psychologist and Nathalie a nurse practitioner, who both have been working steadily through the pandemic.
Nineteen Hand Horse was formed when Nathalie and Mark met Mark “Lemonade” Monroe, an Ohio native and harmonica/woodwinds player, who has accompanied Loretta Lynn, Jerry Reed, and Shania Twain. The new band’s very first rehearsal consisted of working out the harmonies to the Sons of the Pioneers’ classic “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds.”
In time, they added some wonderful like-minded musicians to their makeshift posse; among them drummer/singer Lowell Stephenson, bass player Ralph Ruiz and guitarist Brad Sears, who owns and operates Consumer Music, the shop/conservatory/studio trifecta where Revel was recorded between 2018 and ’20, with the assistance of engineer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and vocalist James “Jae-E” Early. With James’ addition to the lineup, Nineteen Hand Horse — 19HH to their friends —was complete.
The 10 tracks on Revel reveal the rich history of the band, a sound that marries the grit, honesty and clarity of an old Sun Records session with the tasteful modern wizardry of today. Over that are some of the sharpest, most clever lyrics written since Cole Porter or Townes Van Zandt. The songs take the listener through a wickedly funny, occasionally poignant and always entertaining journey across decades and paradigms. The title track unapologetically tears into how our society treats its elders. According to Nathalie, “I have worked with this population and it is no cliché to say that ‘aging is not for sissies’ especially in the good ol’ USA.”
‘The Withering Romance of Trains’ (which may include the first mention of a Tesla in a country song) is very reflective of Nathalie’s offbeat sense of humor: “I LOVE trains and mean no disrespect - but I am a practical person with places to be....”
“Better as a Goddess (Than a Lover)” is a guitar paradise of riffs and solos calling to mind the work of Bill Kirchen and Brian Setzer. “Nathalie’s lyrics evoke a pantheon of goddesses; linking every woman to a long line of ancient, universal female archetypes that every woman can relate to. ‘Better as a Goddess’ is one of our fans’ favorites, always filling the dance floor - the sweet smell of sweat and beer sacred incense for the Dionysian ritual,” says Mark
“Remarkable Dude” is an archly eccentric example of hero worship, with Nathalie citing Ray Wylie Hubbard as a pivotal influence in her decision to write again: “Here’s this guy - who just kept doing his art; remaining true to his vision and gracious – and the world finally caught on and caught up—- Remarkable!” She adds that she has nothing at all against The Black Bear Diner (mentioned in the song): “I love the omelets - they do make me happy.”
“Just Another Honky Tonk Night” and “Nineteen Hand Tale” harken back to the classic country duet. “Once I woke up to country music - I completely immersed myself in the form; I listened to nothing but brilliant, classic music: Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline - until it got into my lifeblood,” recalls Nathalie. “Our band became humble interns of the genre; playing outlaw covers in honkytonks up and down the West Coast.”
Nathalie notes, “Then I started to write; it was fun, light and flowing again like when I was a kid; except now I have an awful lot more experience to draw from.” She loves the fun and playful nature of many of the mid-twentieth century duets such as “You’re the Reason our Kids are Ugly” and “Jackson.” Nathalie states: “I decided that someone needs to resurrect that clever and fun dynamic - well - challenge accepted!”
There’s also a bit of darker, more weighty material, including the semi-autobiographical “Something Beautiful” about the harder workings of family and “How Bout That?!” which Nathalie views as a “mini retrospective of my earlier music career.”
“Fete Ginette,” a good time New Orleans flavored piece, is “Two minutes of pure fun inspired by the lovely wife of our harmonica player, Lemonade,” Nathalie offers. According to her husband Mark, “Ginette believed in us when no one else did. Her love and support have been a constant well of strength”- “and inspiration” adds Nathalie.
“‘Ghost Train’ details the ‘Peter Gunn Theme’ for a new generation,” quips Nathalie. “It’s a whole lot of fun to play,” adds Mark.
Renowned locally for their riveting live performances, Nineteen Hand Horse are soon to host a regular YouTube show entitled “Horsin’ ‘Round @ The Songbird Lounge” which will be filmed at Consumer Music Studio in Vallejo, California. It is loosely modeled on “The Marty Stuart Show” and a Bay Area-flavored “Hee Haw.” Nathalie states that she believes in setting the bar at “nearly unattainable.”
Nineteen Hand Horse is recognized as one of few groups to preserve the traditions of both outlaw country and country & western, while infusing some incredible music influences outside of those genres, which is no easy task.
Leading up to the pandemic, Nineteen Hand Horse was gearing up for a major rollout of their album and a tour. According to Mark, “We were beyond ready to perform our songs and tell the kind of stories that resonate with real life angst and joys - but - like everything and everyone else, we will have to be patient and wait.” Nathalie, Mark and their three adult daughters are all health professionals and put their commitment to caring for people in these dire times above all else.