Sunday, November 28, 2004

Ray LaMontagne

New & Used
by Pete Burakowski

New: Ray LaMontagne, Trouble

Ray LaMontagne released his debut disc Trouble on RCA this fall, but, for a casual listener, it’s difficult to pinpoint the era that this album belongs in. There’s little that is trendy about LaMontagne’s classic, seemingly basic song structures or the tastefully sparse production of Ethan Johns (who has also done interesting work with Ben Kweller and Ryan Adams).

LaMontagne pens songs in the voice and vernacular of a common man, with a universal tone of sorrow, which he delivers with the patient, delicately weathered vocal presence of Van Morrison or his contemporary Damien Rice. Johns adds some strings and nice textures to the mix, but he wisely allows LaMontagne’s broad range of vocal dynamics, from a broken whisper to a full, bluesy growl, to be the focus of the album.

The only fault of Trouble is that it sometimes sounds a bit too familiar. There is a strong influence of The Band’s “The Weight” on “Hannah” and Joe Cocker’s “Feeling Alright” is practically ripped off on the following track, “How Come.” However, it’s hard to hold it against LaMontagne, since it’s rare that someone delivers a first album that is as emotionally convincing and mature.

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