By DAN MACINTOSH
Ray LaMontagne moves Zelig-like from style to style on his latest Monovision album. Yet, these variety stops never sound schizophrenic or unnatural. The album starts off with “Roll Me Mama, Roll Me,” which – although backed by fingerpicked acoustic guitar – features rather bawdy lyrics that are usually associated with the blues. However, even though this introductory salvo may seem to signal an impending exploration of blues music, it’s actually not representative of the album’s overall theme and sound.
There is plenty of acoustic guitar instrumentation on this album, which is why the Creedence Clearwater Revival-like single, “Strong Enough,” may also leave a false first impression. On this one, LaMontagne sounds like he’s “rolling on a river” while doing his best – and it is a good one – Otis Redding impression.
More often than not, though, LaMontagne is far more gently meditative than this rollicking piece may lead you to believe. “We’ll Make it Through features Neil Young-inspired harmonica, for a Neil Young-type work. Another one that hearkens back to Mr. Young is “Rocky Mountain Healin’,” which is also the best love song to Colorado since John Denver.
The album’s loveliest song is “Summer Clouds,” which, with its acoustic guitar picking and subtle strings, is saturated in Nick Drake sweetness. It’s a song of hope, from one who is so hopeful even summer clouds don’t get him down. Another album highlight is called “Misty Morning Rain.” If you can imagine it, LaMontagne’s phrasing sounds like Robert Plant singing a Van Morrison song.
The title is also Led Zeppelin-ish, and LaMontagne is heard singing its words Van-stream-of-consciously over an assertively strummed acoustic guitar rhythm. This is a bit of Astral Weeks you’ll wish would never end. “Weeping Willow,” a pretty acoustic song, feels like a vintage ’60s British Invasion folk piece inspired by the Everly Brothers. It’s so doggone pretty, you’ll want to immediately put this one on repeat.
The album closes with “Highway to the Sun,” one with a Mazzy Star quality, finds LaMontagne seeking avenues of contentment and true love. “I just want to feel something real before I die,” LaMontagne confesses. It’s a rather depressing admission, on the surface. However, LaMontagne doesn’t sound especially depressed when making this statement. Instead, he comes off persistent, as though he’s not ever going to quit until he gets what he’s after. While LaMontagne may be in seeker-mode throughout much of his latest collection, listeners will likely be – somewhat ironically – quite satisfied with his effort.