Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Review: Ray LaMontagne - Gossip In The Grain (* * * 1/2)

Ray LaMontagne has, in the past, been one of those artists who takes himself quite seriously. He deals with the subjects of loss, pain, and emptiness, all with his wounded-soul whisper and his heart displayed plainly on his sleeve. Those familiar with Ray's past albums may have received a bit of a shock hearing one of his tunes from his third album Gossip In The Grain, "Meg White." Yes, THE Meg White of White Stripes fame. LaMontagne's ode to rock's most famous female drummer is quirky, funny, and even silly, definitely not what we've all come to expect.

Through the ten tracks of Gossip In The Grain, Ray covers quite a bit of new territory, such as the soulful anthem "You Are The Best Thing," the twangy, back-country romp "Hey Me, Hey Mama," and the gritty rocker, "Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's A Shame)." All his experiments succeed, so well, in fact, that while the rest of the album is mostly on par for his previous work, it seems tame and, occasionally, boring by comparison. The vocals on "I Still Care For You" are so weightless they seem to almost dissolve into the background, while the album's closers "A Falling Through" and "Gossip In The Grain" are pleasant songs that just don't provide enough of a reason not to restart the disc again to hear the best material. That's not to say that all of his slower tunes aren't worth the time. "Let It Be Me" is a tender and emotional song for a friend that hits home, while "Sarah" is muted, yet melodic and ultimately redeeming. It's just frustrating to be teased with a good time and denied it in the end.

As a soft-spoken, withdrawn, folk musician, Ray LaMontagne has proved himself more than able, but when he branches out, he reaches heights previously unheard. The lighter, broader sound combined with Ray's obvious sincerity and emotional touch make for a truly enjoyable experience. If only he would let us see that side of him more often.

Favorite Tracks: "You Are The Best Thing," "Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's A Shame)," "Sarah"

Oh, and I almost forgot; you can listen to the whole thing this week at Spinner!