// Album Recommendation

Ray LaMontagne



"Trouble been doggin' my soul
Since the day I was born
Worry just will not seem
To leave my mind alone."

Trouble album by Ray Lamontagne

When Ray LaMontagne's debut album Trouble was released to great critical acclaim, the new artist was frequently compared to none other than the old, Irish master Van Morrison. But as flattering and favourable as those comparisons are, they seem more grounded in a mutual soulfulness than a striking similarity between the music of the two artists. They both draw on deep wells of emotions, creating music that is very real and soulful, but Van Morrison's Folk music is lighter in execution, more like '50s/early '60s R&B, whereas overall Ray LaMontagne's Folk music is more muscular, more like late '60s/early '70s Soul & Blues. In other words, Van Morrison is more of a smooth and soulful Sam Cooke to Ray LaMontagne's rugged and soulful Otis Redding.

In striving to learn and polish his craft, LaMontagne spend countless hours listening intensely to Otis Redding, as well as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, and Stephen Stills. It was Stills' Treetop Flyer that inspired LaMontagne to finally quit his dead-end job at a shoe factory and become a full-time musician. Listening to the introspective songs and LaMontagne's vocal delivery - raw, gruff, righteous, and world-weary - Stephen Stills could very well be the single greatest influence on Trouble. The result is a timeless debut album of graceful, genuine songs that tend to be both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.

LaMontagne’s distinctive, captivating voice is an instrument in itself, his phrasing sincere, natural and credible, devoid of histrionics, and as measured as the dry, rustic production and the instrumental backing – acoustic/electric guitars, drums and bass (with sparse use of violin, cello, bongos, shakers and harmonium). Ray LaMontagne: "Over a period of years I taught myself to sing from the gut and not from the nose." As a self-confessed misfit, who struggled in school, the trials and tribulations of LaMontagne’s childhood years and early youth had a profound impact on him, and it transcends to his music, singing and simple but emotive and compelling lyrics. Themes such as heartbreak, vulnerability, loneliness, insecurity, companionship and hope reoccur. LaMontagne: "Life is so difficult – and the thing about music is that you can take deep things that hurt you and turn them into something beautiful." And this music is beautiful.

Trouble is an album that fills the listener with warmth and a certain tranquility – like a fireplace in a cabin on a cold winter’s night, a temporary shelter from the storms of life. All songs were written by LaMontagne with the exception of Hold You In My Arms, which he co-wrote with producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings Of Leon), who also adds percussion, piano, and additional guitar and bass. The title track, Trouble (the first single off the album), is a rugged, authentic folk song with a soulful, bluesy feel – an instant classic – wherein LaMontagne sings about how he was “saved by a woman” from troubles and worries (his ex-wife and the mother of his children). The equally rugged Shelter deals with the same couple struggling to make sense of their relationship in the face of adversity ("It's hard to believe it / Even as my eyes do see it / The very things that make you live are killing you”), concluding that even if they decide to break up, they’ll always be there for each other (“Listen, when all of this around us’ll fall over / I tell you what we gonna do / You will shelter me, my love / I will shelter you / If you shelter me, too”).

Narrow Escape is a ragged Bob Dylan-esque waltz with a cinematic lyric telling the tale of a criminal on the run after having comitted a murder. And Jolene is a lovely, affecting folk ballad, just LaMontagne and an acoustic guitar. Lyrically bleak, it’s about a guy, who had his heart broken by a woman and has been on an extended drugs and alcohol bender ever since (“I ain't about to go straight / It's too late / I found myself face down in the ditch / Booze in my hair / Blood on my lips…”). Now all he has left is a picture of her as a reminder of a time, when she still loved him, and he still believed in love (“…A picture of you holding a picture of me / In the pocket of my blue jeans / Still don't know what love means / Still don't know what love means”). It remains one of the album’s highlights after repeated listens. As does the lo-fi All The Wild Horses – a sad, somber lullaby backed by a five-piece string section – which might very well be the most mesmerizing song here and an impressive end to a very memorable debut album.

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