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Ray LaMontagne at Bridgewater Hall

Published on November 15th 2005.

As Ray Lamontagne saunters onto the stage, hat on head and beard covering most of his features, this softly spoken ex-carpenter from New England doesn’t evoke images of the creators of one of last year’s most powerful sleeper hit albums.

Like the Son of God though, Ray’s got a few tricks up his sleeve and the obvious evasiveness when he speaks disappears as soon as he starts singing.

With songs composed like Jolene, it sounds like Ray has been testing his material out on camp fires in the middle of nowhere, the setting of Bridgewater certainly alludes to that.

Ray, who began the gig on his own with nothing except him, a guitar and a mouth organ, was more often than not flanked by a thumping rhythm-keeping double bass and a drummer, with no preconceptions of making this anything more than a simplistic, intimate gig.

A quick blimp at his background and it’s no surprise to find that he does actually live in a log cabin in New England. One of six children, his parents split up soon after he was born. He admits to have spoken to his father for a total of “a few minutes during 20 years”. Ray spent most of his early years living in his mother’s friends back gardens, chicken coups, cars, tents and a ranch in Tennesee.

No easy upbringing then, vulnerable isn’t the word. Ray sought sollice in the likes of Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ray Charles and Otis Redding – not bad choices for a singer / songwriter in the making looking to pull on the heart strings of others by drawing out his own emotions.

His album from last year, Trouble, has touches from all of these artists. Mournful and full of anguish pumped into it based on his experiences, it was recorded in just two weeks with producer Ethan Johns (who has also worked with Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon and the Jayhawks). Trouble is deeply touching, raw talent shining through largely due to the fact that all of the tracks were recorded ‘as live’ with Ray singing and playing guitar. Drums and bass were later added by Johns.

The album, released on 2004, received critical acclaim. The Times called it ‘One of the most potent debut albums of the year’.

The life breathed into the songs via a voice that can express heartbreak emotion that suggest a belief in a better future, was enough to stun the Bridgewater crowd into silence for the most part of the concert, even moments of tuning in between songs didn’t make the natives restless enough to make a whisper. Aside from a few screams accompanying the likes of Shelter, Trouble and Hold You In My Arms from people simply unable to control their own emotions at hearing some of the songs everyone in the audience connected with on some level. The album being showcased, and Ray Lamontage as a songwriter are likely to be around and listened to for a long, long time.



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