Ray LaMontagne has garnered a considerable (and loyal) following since releasing his debut album, 2004’s Trouble. Both critics & fans have responded to his songs, with their intense lyrics & passionate vocals. His songs can range from the moody, powerful “Jolene,” (from Trouble) to the Van Morrison-esque “You Are The Best Thing,” and the country rave up “Henry Nearly Killed Me,” both from 2008’s Gossip in the Grain. He bounces from folk to soul, blues and back through to rock. LaMontagne's music has a deep emotional core, and fans have responded strongly to his work. His last album, 2010's God Willin' & The Creek Don’t Rise, netted him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Now he’s back with a new disc entitled Supernova. The album will very likely surprise some of his most ardent fans. This is a more upbeat, pop oriented record than he’s released before. The disc is heavily influenced by the sounds of 60s & 70s pop, rock & folk. And it’s…fun. Not a word you’d usually use to describe LaMontgane’s music, as good as it is.
The title track is a bouncy, upbeat number (with handclaps!) that wouldn’t sound out of place on 70s AM radio. “Lavender,” and “Smashing” dip into psychedelia; there are hints of The Beatles, The Zombies and even Pink Floyd on these tracks. Of course, there are a couple of tunes that evoke the traditional LaMontgane vibe, like “Airwaves” and the powerful “Pick Up a Gun” but even those songs have some interesting and vibrant sonic layers that enrich their sound. Part of the credit goes to producer Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys), and some new band members, who help LaMontagne sound looser and more relaxed on record than he has previously. In fact the electric, bluesy, “She’s The One” would fit comfortably on a Black Keys album. And then there’s the singer-songwriter-ish “Ojai,” (which I think channels Glen Campbell) and the country rock sounds of the album closer “Drive-In Movies.”
I think this release will garner the singer a lot of new fans, but may divide some of the old ones; those seeking the deeply intense Lamontagne of previous albums are in for a surprise. For this listener, Supernova really feels like an extension of what he has accomplished so far. It pays homage to his influences, but brings LaMontagne into a different place with his music. He could have done another dark, soul-baring record, but he ventures into a new, but no less interesting direction. This is a great album that bears repeat listens. I look forward to seeing these songs performed live when he tours this summer. Supernova is now available in stores and for digital download. Here’s a link to Ray performing the title track on David Letterman’s show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4AgBwQyGq4.