In November, two months after Troy Gentry's death in a Sept. 8 helicopter crash, Eddie Montgomery announced via Twitter that new music would be coming soon from Montgomery Gentry: "I know it's been a while, but it has been an emotional time," he wrote. "Our new music is coming out, and I hope you'll give it a listen. Me and T-Roy were very proud of this CD."

That album, Here's to You, was finally released on Friday (Feb. 2). The duo finished recording the project shortly before Gentry's death and had, Montgomery says, planned on releasing the disc in February all along.

"There's a million thoughts that go through your mind after [something like that]," Montgomery tells The Boot. "What's so weird and wild about the whole thing is that we actually finished up our vocal parts two days before the horrific accident."

While Montgomery had doubts during parts of his grieving process about whether or not he could release the music, he knows that Gentry would have been furious if Here's to You never saw the light of day.

"He'd be freaking out if we weren't releasing this CD -- he's half of it."

"He'd be freaking out if we weren't releasing this CD -- he's half of it," Montgomery explains. "Matter of fact, he'd probably be right here going, 'How come that CD ain't out yet?'"

In light of the circumstances, it's impossible not to ascribe special meaning to the songs on the album. "Better Me," the album's first single and the first Montgomery Gentry song to be released following Gentry's death, highlights the late Gentry on vocals, grapples with themes of self-improvement and self-reflection and feels, in retrospect, like a fitting final performance. But Montgomery tells The Boot that that song had been special to his singing partner ever since Gentry first brought "Better Me" to the table.

"Cutting these albums over the last 20 years, a lot of times, I would find a song and think, 'That's a Montgomery Gentry song, but T needs to be singing it.' Or T would bring me a song and go, 'Hey, man, I found this song and you gotta sing it,'" Montgomery recalls. "But that song -- when he heard it, he came to me and said, 'Eddie, I really, really wanna sing this song.' That's the first time that had ever happened. Of course, he sang it, and the rest is history."

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However, Here's to You is much more than an album about Gentry and death. Montgomery believes that the meaning of the album will ultimately be in the experience people have listening to it, and there's no one definitive cut on the record.

"It all depends on what mood you're in!" Montgomery laughs. "If you're in a partying mood, there's "Drink Along Song" and "Get Down South." If you're thinking about your mama, then, hey, there's "Feet Back on the Ground." If you're in California or Colorado, then you might want to twist one back and listen to "King of the World."

Like the rest of Montgomery Gentry's discography, Here's to You is all about the fans. Though every song on the album is different, they all tie back to the thing that makes Montgomery Gentry Montgomery Gentry: the duo's connection to their fanbase.

"The main thing is to get back out there and make sure we're honoring T-Roy right, and to keep Montgomery Gentry rocking, like I promised."

"We grew up in honky-tonks and bars, and I kind of joke about it: The bartenders were our babysitters," Montgomery says. "Troy's dad owned the bar. We'd be in there playing music, and someone might come in and say, 'I'm buying everybody a round because I got a promotion at work!' Or, 'I'm buying a round because I just got divorced!' 'I'm buying a round because I told my boss to kiss my a-- and got fired!'

"I reckon we were playing in honky-tonks six nights a week," he adds, "and the working-class people coming in there [were people] we just related to."

Montgomery isn't sure exactly what's next for the band after this album and tour, but he knows it's important to keep the spirit of Montgomery Gentry alive.

"Right now, I wanna worry about [the album and tour]," he says. "I think once we get out there, all our friends out there who are buying the tickets and CDs will let us know what's next."

In the meantime, 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year for Montgomery.

"The main thing is to get back out there and make sure we're honoring T-Roy right," he concludes, "and to keep Montgomery Gentry rocking, like I promised."

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