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Ray LaMontagne

In a sea of earnest singer-songwriters RAY LaMONTAGNE (born Raymond Charles Jack LaMontagne, June 18, 1973 in Nashua, New Hampshire) didn’t instantly stand out as the one who would blaze a trail to commercial success. But he did so off the back of a breakthrough single `Trouble’ from the album of the same name. Perhaps it was because the world (well, the UK and Europe initially) was enthralled by the chinless platitudes of JAMES BLUNT at the time but LaMONTAGNE seemed like a breath of fresh air – his songs, showing what one man and a guitar and some soul could really do – creating something lush and rich but earthy and grounded.
Inspired initially by STEPHEN STILLS’ `So Alone’ album, Ray picked up an acoustic guitar, and wrote and demoed ten songs which he gigged extensively around the East Coast at the turn of the 00s. These tracks made their way into the hands of Chrysalis Music’s Jamie Ceretta who helped finance LaMONTAGNE to re-record the songs for producer Ethan Johns – son of legendary Glyn and producer for the likes of RYAN ADAMS, RUFUS WAINWRIGHT and KINGS OF LEON; these songs became his debut TROUBLE (2004) {*8}.
A record of refined beauty and plaintive magic, LaMONTAGNE’s haunting tones – think ROD STEWART or AL GREEN minus the histrionics – firmly at the centre in tracks like `Hold You In My Arms’ and `Narrow Escape’. In a peculiar twist the album included several guest appearances from members of Nickel Creek and from STEPHEN STILLS’ daughter Jennifer! The album steadily sold a quarter of a million copies in the US straight off the bat and got heavy rotation on the newly re-energised Radio 2 in the UK which led to him swiftly rising to play the larger concert halls in Britain’s towns and cities by the end of the year.
Following its massive success, Ray stayed true to his roots with a second set of great songs but approached them in a very different way. Johns built up layers of keyboards and swathes of lush strings around LaMONTAGNE’s affecting growl making TILL THE SUN TURNS BLACK (2006) {*7}, a brave, but successful utilising of his skills. The album kept LaMONTAGNE flying high, receiving better reviews than its predecessor and finding himself in the UK Top 40.
GOSSIP IN THE GRAIN (2008) {*6} saw the singer expand his musical range further, still in the company of Johns. The album received mixed reviews, the parping brass of `You Are The Best Thing’ and the languid Motown balladry of `Let It Be Me’ showing up a varied collection, by an artist trying to push at his own musical boundaries.
If boundary pushing was the intention, the job was accomplished in earnest on GOD WILLIN’ AND THE CREEK DON’T RISE (2010) {*8} saw several changes in the LaMONTAGNE camp. Firstly, the album was credited to Ray LaMontagne And The Pariah Dogs, the first time he’d acknowledged his band, and the second that he produced the album itself, without regular collaborator/producer Johns. The aforementioned Pariah Dogs were a quartet that had played extensively with Ray by then. Aside from the decidedly funky opener `Repo Man’, the album was a thoroughly laid back affair, recorded over an easy two weeks at LaMONTAGNE’s home in Massachusetts. He continued to enjoy commercial success despite the changes and went on to collect two Grammy nominations for folk album of the year and song of the year for the album’s standout track `Beg, Steal Or Borrow’, winning the former in the process.
As if four long years didn’t really matter in the biz when you’re already a newly established artist, LaMONTAGNE was back in the Top 3 with his “solo”, SUPERNOVA (2014) {*7}. Production down to a tee by Dan Auerbach (The BLACK KEYS), Ray’s sound goes through a complete transformation; a dream-pop psychedelia (a la an acoustic YARDBIRDS or VAN MORRISON and TIM BUCKLEY) that reverberate, in turn, around `Lavender’, `Airwaves’, `No Other Way’, `Drive-In Movies’ et al.
Taking an immeasurable gamble on album six, the Jim James (of MY MORNING JACKET) produced OUROBOROS (2016) {*7}, a hazy, psychedelic LaMONTAGNE lifted the lid on his all-encompassing PINK FLOYD and CREAM-dream affectations. Whether deliberate or sub-conscious in a world full of translucent tunes, the cosmic 8-minute opener `Homecoming’ took off where Rick Wright’s `See Saw’ left off in the summer of ‘68, whereas fuzzy follow-on piece, `Hey, No Pressure’, was enriched with old-hat CLAPTON-ite riffs. Echoing like a subdued saucerful of secrets obscured by some cloud or other, Ray further revisited the spirit of a folk-fuelled Waters and Co on the back-to-back `While It Still Beats’, `In My Own Way’, `Another Day’ and GILMOUR-ish guitar instrumental, `A Murmuration Of Starlings’.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2-MR // rev-up MCS Feb2013-Mar2016

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