Gossip in the Grain – Ray LaMontagne
While comparisons to Van Morrison seem to be the go-to description for Ray LaMontagne’s vocals, on his third and latest release, Gossip In The Grain, he’s much more of a sober Joe Cocker with enunciation skills than a Van-anything to these ears. LaMontagne firmly distinguishes himself from the budding crop of bearded singer-songwriters not only with his indisputably superior facial hair, but also with his lingering hooks and downright haunting melodies, not to mention the voice. Oh, the voice. Ray’s smoky vocals bring his poetic lyrics to life with vibrant color and pure lived-through-this emotion.
Backed by the punch of beautifully orchestrated horns and strings plus an infectious hook, the opening “You Are The Best Thing” hits the mark on every level and sets the bar high. “Let It Be” brings things down a notch or two and moves to the other end of the musical spectrum represented on this album, mellow, pretty music. As demonstrated in these first two tracks, all songs on this album fall into two broad categories: those which rock and rollick, and those which haunt and sway. “Sarah” is one of the more upbeat of the latter category, with a very pretty string arrangement that creates a hopeful vibe.
There’s almost a twangified Radiohead feel to “I Still Care For You” with its pedal steel, breezy vocals and '60s psychedelic pop sensibilities. Those sensibilities also pervade a few other songs, like the quirky and enigmatic “Meg White” and the ghostly title track. From these tunes it becomes fairly easy to imagine a young, likely beardless Ray, sitting on the living room floor, listening to Bread, Beach Boys and Donovan records while dutifully soaking up every sound, and absorbing every word and lyric in the liner notes.
Some more of the rocking/rollicking side comes out in the form of “Hey Me, Hey Mama.” You can almost hear the clink of the whiskey glasses and the rumble of barroom conversation over the authentically old-timey sounding horns. This could be a gross misinterpretation of the vague lyrics, but it seems to be a good old-fashioned funtime song written from the perspective of a dude whose woman kicks the crap out of him on the regular. On “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame)” the galloping drumbeat and throbbing harmonica help to create the perfect locomotive aesthetic to fit with lines like “Sorry baby, but I’m heading out/ Somehow this town don’t feel like home anymore.”