A hazy weave of organic instrumentation and slide guitar.
James Skinner 2010-08-26
Ray LaMontagne is blessed with a voice that emits weary melancholy with the best of them. More than this, his husky pipes retain the power to soothe even when they speak in terms of heartache, resulting in a highly unlikely success story: a Billboard-bothering singer so reluctant to be in the spotlight that he rarely grants interviews and refuses to make videos for his songs.
That said, a cynic might point towards the raft of glossy US television shows that have employed his gift for slow-burning balladry as making up for this lack of audiovisual presence. If you watch television at all, chances are you’ll have heard the singer accentuating some teary farewell or untimely departure.
His fourth LP is the first in which Americana go-to guy Ethan Johns doesn’t feature in any capacity; instead it’s entirely self-produced, and LaMontagne boosts his backing players up to ‘Pariah Dog’ status. It is no great leap from his earlier work, though, and certainly the whole thing sounds gorgeous – a hazy weave of organic instrumentation and slide guitar over which LaMontagne steers his narratives.
Yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that something is missing here – perhaps the drama that marked his preceding Gossip in the Grain’s best tracks. Although bookended by a couple of belters – the opening Repo Man is a flurry of riffs and resentment while The Devil’s in the Jukebox is dirty, loose and all the better for it – the record often lapses into one-paced tedium, reaching a nadir of sorts on Are We Really Through, which is so waterlogged by cliché and easy metaphor that it sounds almost purpose-built for television montage duties.
For all that, this album will undoubtedly please fans of the singer, and LaMontagne occasionally approximates his idols with skill and affection, losing nothing in the process (the ghost of Van Morrison in particular haunts This Love Is Over, easily a high point). The better songs here don’t quite rescue the disc, but they do suggest that LaMontagne can step outside his comfort zone when he chooses to – it’s just a shame how rarely that occurs.
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