malleus&incus

The Pariah Dogs

Posted in Folk, Indie, Singer-Songwiter by jurbanik on September 1, 2010

I’m quite a bit late with this post, so I figured I’d just do a feature instead of a full album review to save some time. I know I’ve been on a folk binge for a couple posts here, but it is just what I’ve been into. Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I think that Ray LaMontagne has one of the best voices in music right now, and ‘God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise’ was released on August 17th. The record was released under “Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs” – the first of four LPs where Ray gives credit to his live band. This seems a very big step for the very private man – he refuses to do music videos and plays live shows in the dark because he doesn’t find himself beautiful enough.

Truth be told , ‘God Willin’ is one of the few albums in recent memory that has ‘shrunk’ on me rather than growing. Thats not to say that I don’t like the album – I probably wouldn’t be posting this if I didn’t, and individually, the songs on the album are pretty great. The thing is, at first I was extremely happy to hear Ray returning to the folk stylings of ‘Trouble,’ his first album and possibly my favorite – I have been slightly hesitant to like 2008’s ‘Gossip in the Grain’ because of how much of an exploration it was for Mr. LaMontagne. As compared to ‘Trouble’, the new album has better production and a lot of good jams – a sign of more maturity and Ray having a little more money to spend on producing the album. However, after  a few listens, it has become apparent to me that ‘God Willin’ is a little flat – single dimensional. With the exception of the first track, Repo Man, almost all the tracks are interchangeable within the album and they sound awfully similar.

That said, it might be hard to communicate my disappointment with the album via the blog. Posting a few songs won’t get the point across, as each of the songs individually are impressive works of music. Because of this I’m in a bit of a conflict – I can’t recommend just a few songs to buy, yet I’m hesitant to recommend purchasing the album unless you’re already a Ray LaMontagne fan because it might not be a record that sticks. Oh well, just listen to the tracks below, buy a few songs, and if you like them, buy some more.

Old Before Your Time// God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise

Seemingly a spinoff of an Allman Brothers track, Ray’s song is lyrically more impressive than the classic ‘Old Before My Time.’ The guitar and steel string guitar and banjo are typical folk fare and not particularly inventive, but are certainly enough to keep your toe tappin. Honestly, I listen to Ray for his voice anyway, so the instrumentation could barely bother me.

Like Rock & Roll and Radio// God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise

This song is delightfully bare. The lyrics are elegantly written, but centered around the almost cliché chorus ‘Are we strangers now/like rock & roll in the radio?,’ they don’t aim to impress, they are just honest and heartfelt. The simple guitar riff is repeated throughout the six-minute song, without much development but somehow it works. For me, what steals the my attention on this track is the harmonica – it is fleeting, not too embellished, and stands out very clearly where it appears.

Honestly though, one of the most promising things about this album is what it means. It is the first album Ray has produced himself. As I was discussing with Madison DuPree of Predictably Me, after releasing this album, Ray seems poised to release a masterpiece next time around. It seems like Ray has stuck to a strict 2 year timetable for album releases, with a solid goal with each. For 2004’s Trouble, Ray defined his own sounds as an emerging artist, cementing himself as a powerful folk voice. With 2006’s Till the Sun Turns Black, Ray developed his baroque sensibilities and getting a little more upbeat. In 2008’s Gossip in the Grain, Ray seems to have gotten in touch with his roots, exploring funk, soul, and many genres and paying homage to them. God Willin’ in the Creek Don’t Rise has Ray sinking back into his beard musically – into his comfort zone – so as to allow him to exercise more command over his backing band and to cement his abilities as a producer. I’m excited for whatever is next.

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