Out of Office Auto-Reply: I'm Still on Vacation, but...

iPhone Photo: Sunset over the Great South Bay - credit: John Johnson

Technically I'm still on vacation, so don't talk to me...but I thought you should know that our favorite new music stream, NPR First Listen, is streaming Ray LaMontagne's new record, "God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise,"  all week until it's release next Tuesday...(thanks for the hot tip, Catherine!)

I just gave it a once over while on the LIRR and it's very country tinged, from what I gathered in an out of a sleep/coma certainly induced by the bath of funeral parlor perfume a fellow passenger thought necessary for this particular Monday.  It seems to me, Ray is very obviously going in a certain direction of old timey, jug band, hoe down, rock & roll and I don't think I love it. I'm certain, in fact, that I could do entirely without the albums first track, "Repo Man."  This says more about me, than Ray. I generally skip over "Henry Nearly Killed Me" from "Gossip In The Grain," and "Repo Man" can hold that position this time around.

Thankfully, "New York City's Killing Me" gets my attention. This is the most country Ray LaMontagne has ever been. You can almost smell the stale beer on the barroom floor and knowing the kind of guy he is, the sentiment sounds pretty genuine. In case you can't get the sentiment from the title, he says "Get me out of New York City, Son/ New York City's Killin' me." Follow this with the title track, and you can see where he's taking his "sound" on this effort. The steel guitar riff opening "God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise" is pretty outright gorgeous, and the chorus is his best vocal moment this time around.

"Are We Really Through" has an almost too familiar chord progression, but the material is classic Ray and I welcome it, as we barely see him channel the "lyrics over production" focus.  However, and maybe it's just my current state, his best song is the least produced/most honest moment on the record, "Like Rock & Roll Radio."  Are we strangers now?/like the Ziegfeld gal & the Vaudeville show/ Are we strangers now?/ Like Rock & Roll & the radio. This song is right up my alley, and will probably hold the title of "Most Played" for a while.  

I respect that he's doing what he needs to do. There are a few other tracks I'll need some more listens to get a good grip, but the 4 I just mentioned are his standouts. I understand he's finally formed a loyal band, and he's showboating them a little more than he has on previous records, but Ray's strongpoint will always be his voice matched with painfully honest lyrics, and I'll always favor those a little bit more.

In the last issue of Rolling Stone, he was quoted saying "I want to write music that will outlive me, I don't think I have yet."  I have to disagree and say he hit the nail on the head with Jolene, as I've praised on this blog in the past...but let's see where this direction takes him.

Folk on, Ray!

EDITORS NOTE: In the time it's taken me to write this post, the album has already grown on me a little more...it's gonna be a great listen come Autumn.

After a dicey Ferry with a bum engine struggled its way to shore, pumping out more pollution than BP, I'm back in the city with a day to kill. Maybe I'll take in an artsy movie...or Piranha 3D.

-M