The debut full-length album from songwriter Alex Montenegro, better known by “Skirts,” is a convergence of Southwestern folk rock and contemporary percussion, adorned with Texas imagery and piercing guitar licks. Entitled Great Big Wild Oak, the record spans ten intimate tracks that paint sonic portraits of Montenegro’s memories through impressive arrangements and warmhearted vocals.
Growing up in Dallas, Montenegro was surrounded by music, citing distinct memories of her father teaching her how to place a needle on a record he was willing to sacrifice. Montenegro began to shape her own taste whilst working at record stores and discovering the burgeoning indie rock communities in Texas. After the release of Almost Touching, an EP of tracks home-recorded on a cassette 4-track, Montenegro took Skirts on the road, touring with the likes of LVL UP, Snail Mail, and Spencer Radcliffe (who lends vocals on delicate album closer “Annie”). Employing live bandmembers and friends Vincent Bui and Joshua Luttrull, Montenegro picked apart demos and made space for Great Big Wild Oak to grow.
Recorded between various home studios in Dallas, Montenegro recalls Great Big Wild Oak as a “Frankenstein album” as forgotten demos came back to life and other songs were cut from the record. The album’s craft is displayed in its open-minded approach, from xylophone to pedal steel, banjo to clarinet — the vast array of instruments never outshine one another.
Reminiscent of a Southern lullaby, third track “Easy” highlights the fusion of classic folk and inventive percussion that define the album. Through gliding layers of saxophone and flute, Montenegro sings “Papa was a rodeo, you're like him, you're a wildfire – you'll go out with some time.” Skirts’ knack for strong imagery and lyricism remain present throughout the album, each song giving the sensation of an old film photo in your hand.
“Spare key in the front yard, underneath the bed of flowers” begins “Swim,” a piano-driven track that was re-recorded over five times, eventually becoming a personal favorite to Montenegro. The song’s process mirrors its sentiment, Montenegro sings wistful like a sigh (“If a salmon can swim upstream then I can learn to swim”) — a lyric that has stuck with her since teenhood.
“True,” the twangiest cut from Great Big Wild Oak, begins with Montenegro’s tumbling piano and guitar, before erupting into a dynamic sonic discussion of Southern-steeped rhythms and percussion. Though there is great comfort in Montenegro’s nostalgia-laced tunes, Great Big Wild Oak keeps you on your toes, sprinkled with instrumental interludes and distorted, yet tender moments.
After building an underground fanbase throughout Texas, Skirts used Great Big Wild Oak to create the first developed portrait of the band’s signature sound. Final track “Annie” seals the album with a dialogue of harmonies and reverse guitar work, a diversion from full rock arrangements, and just one indulgent minute of the tangible warmth and intimacy one should expect from a Skirts tune. With Great Big Wild Oak freshly planted in their discography, Skirts is prepared to swim against the current with sincerity.