What is “the new normal”? A month ago, it meant that everybody was in lockdown but the assumption was that, in time, we would all revert to our previous “normal”. Now that it’s nearly 100 days since lockdown was imposed, what is “normal”? Will we revert to the old “normal” or has our “normal” changed? Sure, I’m missing football, cricket and drinking beer but my days are full. What with walking Bruno, doing the Killer Sudoko, reading all of Ann Patchett’s novels, writing this blog, watching all 125 episodes of “Babylon 5”, Zoom calls, the recommencement of The Premiership and Album Club, there’s not enough time to get everything done. This is Parkinson’s Law – work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Meeting Peter twice a week for Album Club is a joy. We are picking a record that neither of us knows, listening to it on Spotify and discussing it – now lockdown has been relaxed, we are spending Tuesday morning in my overgrown garden and Friday morning in Peter’s beautiful garden. It’s a great discipline, having to listen to a new record and we have discovered some gems. I have bought records by Fleet Foxes, Spiritualized, Arbouretum, St. Vincent and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever as a result. Yesterday we agreed that we found Margaret Glaspy underwhelming. On Tuesday we are going to discuss Disq. Whoever they are.
As much as I like Album Club, it means that playing other new records is taking a bit of a backseat. In recent weeks I have bought new records by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle and I haven’t played them to death like I might have done “normally”. There’s just no time! Yesterday the new record by Ray LaMontagne arrived and I haven’t played it yet. I thought I’d play it now and, a bit like I did with the Waxahatchee record on April 15th, record my initial thoughts. The only song I’ve heard before is “We’ll Make It Through” which was on my Spotify Release Radar a couple of weeks ago.
Ray LaMontagne made a fantastic record in 2010 called “God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise”. As well as featuring the wonderful Greg Leisz on guitar and banjo throughout all ten tracks, it doesn’t have a duff song on it. 4 years later he released a record called “Supernova” in which he tried to experiment with his sound and which I found so unlistenable that I gave it away. Altogether he has released 8 records in 16 years and this is the 3rd I have bought.
The first song is “Roll Me Mama, Roll Me” and it starts with a simple guitar and immediately that soulful voice kicks in making an immediate connection. “Roll me mama, like only you can”. A bass guitar kicks in and a great harmony adds impact to “will you lift my heart up off the ground?” Every note, every voice is played by Ray LaMontagne. I guess this sort of release may get more popular after lockdown but I’ve read that this record was recorded in 2019.
“I Was Born To Love You” is beautiful with a lovely understated electric guitar. The great thing about Ray LaMontagne is that he is a very good singer and so the melody in each song becomes memorable.
“Strong Enough” starts much more jauntily – exactly like “Mrs. Vanderbilt” from “Band On The Run.” This is much more “in your face” but gives a real chance for the soulfulness in Ray LaMontagne’s voice to shine through. I suspect this isn’t typical of the record – it is immediately appealing but, if someone heard this and bought the record hoping it would be similar, they would be disappointed.
“Summer Clouds” is much more gentle, genteel even. It sounds like it might have been an outtake from “The Golden Hour Of Donovan”. “Sunday, in the afternoon. I’ll stay if you want me to. Hours roll like summer clouds and summer clouds don’t worry about tomorrow”. It’s lovely.
“We’ll Make It Through” starts in the same way that “Summer Clouds” ends but this time the vocals are double tracked and the tone is much sadder. “I know you’re scared ’cause you can’t see the light. You toss and turn through the night holding me, and I’m holding you and together, we’ll get through.” A mournful (as always) harmonica adds to the sense of optimistic bleakness.
“Misty Morning Rain” is more frantic whilst remaining languid. There are references to Van Morrison here. “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison contains the lyrics “Skipping and a-jumping in the misty morning fog” so Ray Lamontagne has substituted rain for fog as well as playing acoustic guitar in the same beautiful melodic way that Jay Berliner does on “Astral Weeks”. It’s a very soothing song.
“Rocky Mountain Healin'” seems, at first hearing, to be connected to “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver. “Colorado Rocky mountain morn. Flatirons flashing in the sun, feeling what you’ve found. To wonder why there ain’t more people crying. Seeing miles and miles of lodgepole pine lying on the ground.” It certainly has a country music feeling.
“Weeping Willow” sounds very twee and stands out in the same way that “Our House” does on “Deja Vu” – in other words I don’t like it.
I’m not really sure what “Morning Comes Wearing Diamonds” is about. 3 verses start by paying homage to a beautiful sunrise. The lines “I just don’t give a damn anymore about winning or taking sides, trying to change your mind” could well be saying that just being with his wife is enough and he loves her. Or it could be that he has given up on her.
Ray LaMontagne lives with his poet wife, Sarah Sousa, and their two sons in Western Massachusetts.
Here’s part of the review in MOJO: “The album rides out on “Highway To the Sun”, another dose of sweet melancholy that simmers and shimmers mirage-like as LaMontagne reports once again on his heart’s unrelenting ache. You’d tell lesser songwriters to lighten up a bit, but not him. There’s gold in them there hills.”
Beauty. Melancholy. Heartache. Who could ask for more?