Ray LaMontagne worked in a shoe factory in Maine. One morning he was woken by his alarm at 4am for work. The alarm clock’s radio served up Stephen Stills’ ‘Treetop Flyer’. At that instant, LaMontagne decided to become a musician. It took him more than a decade from this epiphany to record his debut – he worked as a carpenter and lived off the grid.
LaMontagne told American Songwriter he was inspired by Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, tons of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, The Grateful Dead, The Band, “all the mainstays I guess”.
LaMontagne’s husky whisper is likeable and distinctive – it’s created by singing through his gut rather than his nose. Much of his work is mellow folk-country, but he’s often most interesting when he ventures outside of this. His work seems full of heartbreak, but he’s actually been married long-term – his wife is a published poet.
Ray LaMontagne Album Reviews
Trouble | Till the Sun Turns Black | Gossip in the Grain | God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise | Supernova | Ouroboros | Part of the Light | Monovision
LaMontagne resolved to become a musician at the age of 20, but it took more than a decade to make his first record. LaMontagne worked with producer Ethan Johns, son of Glyn Johns, who also collaborated with Ryan Adams in the same era. Johns was asked to produce demos for LaMontagne; he disobeyed orders, quickly recording a full-fledged album. The pair played most of the instruments themselves, with Johns on drums. Guest include Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins, as well as Jennifer Stills, daughter of LaMontagne’s original inspiration.
When LaMontagne made his debut record, he’d been building a cabin without electricity, and the only music he could listen to was his own. Trouble captures a smoky, late-night feel more than any of LaMontagne’s other records, but it also feels one-dimensional, not surprisingly for a quickly-made record from a debutant. As is often the case for LaMontagne, his most extreme material is his most enjoyable. ‘Forever My Friend’ stands out for its upbeat nature, while ‘Jolene’ and ‘Burn’ are the album’s most anguished songs.
Trouble is a worthy debut, but it’s a little too one-note for me to return to it often.
Till The Sun Turns Black
LaMontagne’s first album was surprisingly successful, but his second is a stronger artistic statement. He’s back with Ethan Johns, who helps to expand his range. The debut stuck to late-night, country-folk songs with simple arrangements. Till the Sun Turns Black is more ambitious, taking in everything from funk to grandly orchestrated ballads.
The opening track ‘Be Here Now’ is slow, but it’s more ornate than anything on the debut, with strings and piano filling out the sound. Lead single ‘Three More Days’ successfully sets LaMontagne’s quivering voice against a funk groove, with John Medeski guesting on Wurlitzer. He can still write straightforward country-funk tunes like ‘Empty’ and ‘Gone Away From Me’. ‘Within You’ is essentially a lengthy coda to the title track, forming a single ten-minute song to gracefully close the record.
Till The Sun Turns Black is a gorgeous sophomore album from LaMontagne, exploring a wider range of moods than his debut.
Gossip in the Grain
LaMontagne’s third album is again recorded with Ethan Johns, this time in England. It’s his least coherent album yet, employing a full band in places to complement his more typical sparse arrangements. There’s the first inkling of a sense of humour on ‘Meg White’, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the White Stripes’ drummer. It feels less weighty than before, but it has enough strong tunes to make for an enjoyable record.
10 Best Ray LaMontagne Songs
Three More Days
Til The Sun Turns Black/Within You
Forever My Friend
Be Here Now
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