Tag Archives: Ray La Montagne

You Must Bear Your Neighbor’s Burden Within Reason

Last year was a fine year for music, but only a few things really wowed me. That’s not to say it was completely bereft of anything good, but the prevailing theme, at least in my estimation, was that while 2009 was a banner year for new talent & a resurgence of older talent, 2010 had very little to offer. 2011 is shaping up to be, already, one of the better years. The Decemberists came out with a new album on Tuesday & it’s their best album yet. It hits chords in my soul that bring out such joy, that I can’t help but sway.

I suppose I should address the elephant in the blog & explain my prolonged absence. Boredom. That’s it. I was completely & utterly bored with anything that was coming out. I was searching for new & exciting things to come my way. Lissie made an album that I adore, but I couldn’t write anything that hadn’t been said. I had a whole soliloquy ready for the brilliance of Ray Lamontagne’s overnight transformation from Indie darling to bluegrass star & yet nothing came out. There was a block of sorts & much of it came from the draining effects of writing a book about my travels through Europe. A book that is finished in its infant form, but must now be raised into something I can market.

There were a few other albums that I quite enjoyed: Justin Townes Earle, Head & the Heart, Broken Bells, The Black Keys & obviously Arcade Fire which was the best album of the year, but perhaps through my own depression of  the musical offerings being put out there or indifference the ability to cognitively discuss these in terms that were worth reading was nonexistent. So here sat the blog. Relatively unchanged throughout the year as I struggled to put my thoughts into words. I feel I’ve made some sort of a turning point, even though I intended to begin writing last week. To be cliche I suppose it’s better late than never.

So I purchased two albums from Amazon the other day (yes I buy my music), where the $3.99 deals keep me coming back & spending on things I would otherwise think twice about buying. I bought Social Distortion’s new album Hard Time & Nursery Rhymes & the aforementioned Decemberists album The King is Dead. Let’s discuss Social D’s new album first. It’s been  7 years since they released an album & a few years since Mike Ness has come out with an album, himself. I’ve always been a fringe fan of Social D’s, as I do not have the dancing skeleton tattooed anywhere on my body. It has that patented loud Gibson sound & gruff Mike Ness nosy drawl, but with lyrics that seem to have more emotional impact than ever before. Take for instance “Still Alive”  where Ness pleads,

“I’m still alive, I will survive, I can handle what life brings, just give me time…I’m still alive, talking the same ol’ jive, I can handle anything that comes my way, just give me another day”

It ends with a short, but beautiful piano solo that made me really feel that this album rivals anything they’ve ever done. It is so reminiscent of early Springsteen that I haven’t stopped listening to it for 3 days. That is, except to listen to The Decemberists’ new album The King is Dead, an album which seems to have awoken them from their prog rock malaise from the past few years. It sounds so similar to early R.E.M. that it came as no surprise to see that Peter Buck contributed to three of the tracks. The opening track almost sounds Tom Pettyesque with heavy drums taking the forefront much like “You Don’t Know How it Feels”.

Colin Meloy really lets loose with his voice on The King is Dead & goes places that I haven’t heard him dare go vocally before. It shows that the risks were worth taking. Changing the sound & straying away from that boring sound have worked wonders & even though it came out in January there’s a distinct feeling that come coincidentally December we will still be talking about this album as one of the best of the year.

I can’t say I will write everyday as I do have a job that requires a good chunk of time, but I will continue to talk about things I love & look forward to talking about new releases from groups like Foxxhound, Two Guns, Cold War Kids, Amos Lee, Drive-by Truckers & Okkervill River. It will be a banner year for Indie music & soon Indie Music will become alternative & all the kids will have to jump on the bandwagon. I’m fine by that. Music should be loved by all & not thrown into some meta category to be hated once it becomes popular to the masses. If it’s good, love it. If it sucks, hate it, but don’t despise popular music for being popular. Despise it, much like I despise She Wants Revenge & Jason Mraz for being bad at music.

Machine Gun Blues – Social Distortion

Sweet & Lowdown – Social Distortion

Still Alive – Social Distortion

Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists

This is Why We Fight – The Decemberists

It’s Not Livin’ That You’re Doin’ If It Feels Like Dyin’

There’s a tenderness, almost a loneliness or desperation I haven’t heard in Ray LaMontagne’s voice that seems much more apparent in his latest album than in anything he’s released previously. There’s a great following for Ray, but until this album I was not on it. Oh, don’t get me wrong he had a song here & there & his talent is unmistakable, but there was just something there that I couldn’t grasp. With God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise what you have is subtle perfection. It blows me away & I run back to listen to his old stuff that I have to see if I was wrong.

I still don’t think I am. It may have to do with giving his touring band, The Pariah Dogs, partial credit on the album. Steel pedal guitars & banjos & LaMontagne goes from the shy, soulful singer that we all expect him to be to a perfectly pitched country singer.

Get so tired of all this concrete
I guess I’m tired of all this noise
Got to get back up in the country
Have a couple drinks with the good ol’ boys.

That’s not normal talk for the Boston born singer, but it all seems so natural. It sounds so heartfelt & effortless that you wonder why he hasn’t gone this route previously. This summer is proving to be an amazing one for music with Arcade Fire, Ray & next week’s highly anticipated release of Fitz & the Tantrum’s latest album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces. There has been a lull in music for awhile with the recent pop explosion seems to garner all the music headlines, but this summer seems to be changing the rules. It isn’t like this every year. Oh sure, great albums are released every year, but this summer has truly opened my eyes to people I  ever thought I’d be on board for.

I feel the same way Ray does about the city about the country. I miss the city with an undying passion. I’ve been corrupted by it. It’s jaded me & turned me into something of an anomaly in the country. I’m utterly bored at nearly all times outside of the city. To me that noise you hear constantly in the city is a welcome return to reality. Back to Ray, though, this album is his finest achievement. To turn someone who wouldn’t have listened had it not been for his album being up on NPR, into a fan or at least a fan of his latest album, is a monumental achievement.

I try hard to be open minded,  but let’s be honest we like what we like & opening that gap has to be difficult. There has to be a special connection with the music or something that catches your ear & your guard drops just enough to realize you’re in the midst of that thing that soothes savage beasts. It’s that ethereal thing that you don’t why or how you love it, but you just do. It’s funny how music speaks to some & not to others. I couldn’t imagine a life without music. I use this blog as my outlet because it is such an all consuming feeling I get when I hear something that speaks to me. It engulfs me like a fire & there is an almost spiritual affect it has on my soul.

Is there anything better than smoking a joint, putting on some headphones, laying back & just listening to the music? It’s something like that that reminds you of how great life can be. Without being pretentious there is a sense of sorrow I feel for those who cannot feel that connection to music. They just don’t get it & it really pains me to know that people can go through life & just not feel anything when they hear something so beautiful that it stands through time as a pillar of an era. Music does that. Ray LaMontagne is yours he’ll never grow old.

New York is Killing Me – Ray LaMontagne

Old Before your Time – Ray LaMontagne