Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ray LaMontagne - Gossip In The Grain

The last time I wrote about Ray LaMontagne I wasn't very generous, and begged for more from the budding blues-folk star. Known as a bit of a recluse, Ray lives someplace in the depths of Maine. It is probably someplace far from the "Real World" where people don't know who he is, and everyone calls each other by their first names...if there is anyone else around at all. He began his journey into the music world after hearing a Stephen Stills song ("Tree Top Flyer") on the radio as he was getting up to go to work. He heard the song and decided to stop working in a show factory and pursue a music career. Thank goodness. The music world owes him a huge thank you note. Ray LaMontagne is an artist that doesn't come along very often. He's talented, has a unique perspective, and his sound is distinctly his own. His voice is a raspier/huskier version of Van Morrison and Tim Buckley. His music most often is compared to his genre compatriot Iron & Wine for their folk/rock/blues similarities.

Gossip In The Grain (2008) (being released 10/14/08) is as different from Till the Sun Turns Black (2006), as it was from its predecessor Trouble (2004). Each album has seen a progression for Ray, which is quite a thing to say considering his debut album was quite good. At his heart LaMontagne is a storyteller. His way of telling stories through his lyrics is unquestionably one of the things listeners are drawn to during every listen. He usually sings about loneliness and romantic longing. These topics have been "done before" but rarely have they been sung with such drama and authenticity. He expresses his emotion with a depth and realness that would make grown men cry and women sigh. The bare-bones structures and initmacy of Till the Sun Turns Black isn't totally gone, but it has been replaced with more varied tunes that show a wide range of styles. The opener "You Are The Best Thing" is a rousing Memphis soul tune, followed by "Let It Be" with its folksier lilting soul groove (a song John Mayer will probably wish he wrote), then comes the intimate tune "Sarah" with a melody played on mandolin. Within the first three songs you can already tell that this is going to be a diverse and rich album. The use of strings, acoustic and electric guitars, horns, backing vocals, harmonica, and banjo are just more examples of the diversity employed by Ray and his exceptional producer Ethan Johns. There is even a song that could have been written by the Rolling Stones with its free-form blues riffs called "Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)." This is really the record I had wanted to hear from LaMontagne. While I did end up enjoying Till the Sun Turns Black the more and more I listened to it, I think this album is going to have a higher place on the mantle, per se. It's a really great collection of songs that will satisfy all commers.

"You Are The Best Thing"

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