by Pete Mazzaccaro
In late 2004, an unknown Maine singer songwriter named Ray LaMontagne, who had quit his job in a New Balance shoe factory to pursue a music career, released his debut album, “Trouble.”
It was a sensational debut for La Montagne, who had secured the production talents of Ethan Johns, a talented musician and producer who has worked with Crowded House, Stephen Stills and Paul McCartney. A stripped down, acoustic affair it featured LaMontagne’s remarkable voice – a higher register, gravelly and soulful instrument that is unlike any other.
A Ray LaMontagne record sounds like a Ray LaMontagne record first and foremost because of that voice.
Last week, LaMontagne released his eight studio LP, the 10-track “Monovision.” It is a suitably produced record for these pandemic times. LaMontagne played every instrument, sang every backup vocal and produced and mixed every track at his home studio. It’s a one-man operation from start to stop.
LaMontagne has worked with a number of experts at recording and producing rock music in his career. In addition to Johns, who recorded LaMontagne’s first and second record, he’s also worked with The Black Key’s Dan Auerbach and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, two men who have made names for themselves not only as rock taste makers but as producers in recent years.
La Montagne has clearly been a good student. “Monovision” is a perfectly pitched acoustic rock record, expertly performed and mixed.
If there is any reason to critique LaMontagne’s work here it is that he does not really break sonic ground. Instead, the record takes a tour of iconic 70s rock sounds, touching on the songwriter’s many influences. “Strong Enough” recalls Credence Clearwater Revival’s rendition of “Proud Mary,” the acoustic guitar and string-backed arrangement of “Summer Clouds” summons the sound of Nick Drake, “Rocky Mountain Healin’” could have been a Neil Young song complete with its harmonica melody and “Misty Morning Rain” is a clear nod to Van Morrison.
It’s probably unfair to expect much innovation in the realm of acoustic rock in 2020. Instead, LaMontagne gets everything else very right here – from the very well-crafted songs, the individual performances, all his own, and, again, those soaring vocals. Ultimately, though it is more ambitious in its arrangements, “Monovision” recalls the intimacy of “Trouble.” Fans of LaMontagne will likely find this to be one of their favorite albums.
Key songs: “Roll me Mama, Roll Me,” “Misty Morning Rain” and “Highway to the Sun.”
Liner Notes is a regular column on music from an admittedly Gen X point of view. Feedback on the column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org