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Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs - Constructs a mellow album of ageless Americana
on 29 August 2010
For the curious amongst you this album is streaming in full over at the wonderful National Public Radio until September 7th which will enable you to ignore the sniffy BBC review above and check out the real thing. After hearing it in full a good number of times the "cheque is in the post" to Amazon since this is easily LaMontagne's best since his timeless debut album "Trouble" with its echoes of Otis Redding. On this new album he has moved away from producer Ethan John and instead filled out his sound by enlisting the support of his red hot band of musicians the Pariah Dogs who support him in concert and comprise Jay Bellarose on drums, Jennifer Condos on bass, Patrick Warren on keys, Eric Heywood on guitar and Greg Leisz on steel guitar.
"Repo Man" is a exuberant and funky start to the album with LaMontagne's trademark gravely vocal returning like a very welcome old friend after an extended guitar introduction. It is however not typical of the songs throughout since this new albums predominant feel is largely based on alternative country in the vein of Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams, Evan Dando and particularly the source inspiration of "Harvest" era Neil Young which is spread like a rash over the albums second half (but let me add in in a very good way). "New York City's killing me" is classic heartbreak country territory as is the stellar title track which is one of the best songs on the album with its slow and lonesome vocal by LaMontagne and dulcet steel guitar backing from Greg Leisz. On its own this song is worth the price of admission and will soundtrack many smoky Saturday nights and rainy Sunday mornings accompanied by a punishing hangover. My favourite song thus far is "Beg, steal or borrow" which is a mid tempo shuffle accompanied by a lovely vocal from LaMontagne, nice rattling percussion and a song theme which exhorts a young man to break free from small town confines and get away.
The albums remaining songs include the excellent smouldering classic "This love is over" which could have possibly appeared on "Trouble", and then the influence of Neil Young fully kicks in. Both "Endless Summer" and "Like Rock n Roll Radio" could have happily sat on "Harvest" and halfway through I had the odd feeling of missing backing vocals from James Taylor. Whatever the case they are both great country blues songs with a slightly ramshackle ambience and effortless backing from the hugely efficient Pariah Dogs. "Old before your time" is a gentle banjo driven ballad which will undoubtedly be covered in due course by a variety of country singers, while the albums closer lightens the mood with "Devil in the Jukebox" which is one of those examples of loose rustic Americana that could be sung by group of "good ole boys" playing on wooden chairs outside the local fishing tackle store. With its howling harmonica it sees LaMontagne having a wail of a time "about to throw tomatoes on the griddle to fry."
As stated previously of LaMontagne four albums thus far "God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise" is probably closer in spirit to "Trouble" than the much darker "Till the Sun turns black". His last album "Gossip in the Grain" sounded to these ears to be a somewhat tired and forced in parts but it is delightful to report that this new and very mellow album sees a master craftsman and brilliant set of backing musicians delivering the goods. If you have been searching in vain for a diverse collage of sounds based on ageless Americana your destination has been reached. Highly recommended.