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Toil and Trouble (and tedium)
on 15 February 2011
In the crowded field of recorded music by singer-songwriters, Ray LaMontagne has his modest fan base. Maybe he is capable of writing and recording music which exhibits more originality of style and content, but on the evidence of `Trouble' you have to conclude that he has little hope of ever swimming in the same deep waters as Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen.
Overall, `Trouble' is dull and unremarkable. `All the Wild Horses' is just about OK as a stand-alone song, but hardly qualifies as great. To be interesting to the listener a collection needs to be varied, contain light and shade, to include songs in different keys and tempos. Instead, what LaMontagne offers is an OK voice (definitely his strong point) but repetitive formulaic material. An unvarying monotonous drone in the same key with the same chord progressions to every song is hardly likely to beguile the curious, open-minded but musically sophisticated listener. The cumulative effect of all this earnest mediocrity is tedious and vapid.
The problem is that LaMontagne is clearly no musician, composer or songwriter - not yet anyway, though he may develop with experience. His good, listenable voice calls out for better material and a good professional band around him. To stand out from the crowd, he needs to increase his versatility of style and write some decent lyrics with originality, wit, irony, poignancy, humor, or bite.
Listen to Bob Dylan or any other true master of the craft, Ray, to see how it's done. If you stick with this formulaic mediocrity you are likely to remain, with thousands of others, in the minor league; maybe you're happy there and if so, good luck.
If you count yourself part of LaMontagne's modest-sized fan base, then you're likely not to agree with this view because people generally prefer to read positive copy about what they like. However if you honestly get off on this unoriginal and derivative mush and can stand to listen to `Trouble' more than once, good luck to you too. There's plenty of better music out there and when you grow tired of `Trouble' the exploration of richer, more adventurous and original musical territory awaits you.