May 18, 2018 Ray LaMontagne – Part of the Light (Album Review)
Hard to believe that Singer-Songwriter Ray LaMontagne is nearly two decades deep into his recording catalogue. His musical journey famously began in his early twenties when his alarm clock pumped Steven Stills into the air in an effort to remind him of a low-level job at a Maine shoe factory. He spent the better part of the next decade learning and playing, eventually culminating in his strong 2004 debut Trouble, an album that saw positive critical response and walked the fine line between community acceptance and widespread notoriety, the latter due to a number of songs finding their way into films and television.
Five studio albums followed, most recently Ouroboros in 2016, produced with the help of Jim James from My Morning Jacket. Somehow over the years, LaMontagne has managed to sound fresh, even younger, while his fans continue to grow older. Now, his latest offering, Part of the Light, is slated for release on Friday, May 18, 2018, through RCA Records, with “Such a Simple Thing” as the first single. LaMontagne took the production reins for himself this time around, recording in his home studio in New England.
Where Ouroboros was a bit of a wide, spacey departure from the gut-wrenching heartstrings work LaMontagne has best been known for, Part of the Light finds the artist returning to his roots, and deftly channeling his influences without sounding cheap or formulaic. The opener “To the Sea” takes a meandering path through Nick Drake and even some solo Eddie Vedder stylings, always with the ethereal vocals that define LaMontagne and his work. “Paper Man” whispers to a start before launching into a loud rendering of early-to-mid Elton John, routinely taking quick breaks to return to earth.
Part of the Light may have obvious influences on some tracks, but entries like the title and its chaser, “It’s Always Been You,” offer glimpses into the unique sounds that make LaMontagne. Sparse vocals and fleeting guitar licks remind the listener of the artist’s two most powerful talents. The latter is another especially gutting track, mixing low, muted vocals onto an almost plodding musical track. While the gravity of the situation is almost lost in the cryptic brevity with which LaMontagne has chosen to arrange the song, soft piano and haunting background vocals help to drive the point to a crescendo.
The trend continues with “Let’s Make it Last,” a soft yawp tossed to a lover drifting out of focus, with more examples of chilling piano. Later, the first single from the album, “Such a Simple Thing,” continues the soft vocals and wandering guitar that defines so much of LaMontagne’s work, with the wrenching suggestion: “Tell me what your heart wants / such a simple thing / my heart is like paper / yours is like a flame.”
The electric returns with “As Black as Blood is Blue,” which with a few more tweaks, this song could almost fit within a Ghost setlist. (Yes, the Swedish Metal band!) LaMontagne wraps coarse electric guitar around aggressive vocals layered for effect, and after a rough denouement takes control past the halfway point, the vocals help the track find a loud conclusion. The rock returns even harder with “No Answer Arrives,” a near-psychedelic trip replete with vocal and instrumental effects and the repeated question,”Where is the joy? / Where is the joy I used to feel?,” to which no answer arrives.
The album closes sternly with “Goodbye Blue Sky,” another heart-punching acoustic session, one which quietly cools the bombast of “No Answer Arrives” almost instantly. The track carves a long sweeping path with some aggressive electric guitar near the halfway point, a wound which never quite leaves the track, and never quite heals. Though, LaMontagne’s ability to change gears so quickly is to be admired.
Part of the Light is another numbing effort from the New England singer-songwriter. The tracks here may not be breaking new ground for LaMontagne himself, but they provide a rigid testament that he has long found his niche and is able to occupy the space without sounding tired or bored. His artistry and consistency are still in top form here, and thus, CrypticRock is pleased to award Part of the Light 4 of 5 stars.