Ray LaMontagne got his groove back. His new album, Gossip in The Grain, is by no means breaking new ground, but with soul singers leaning on a wall of horns in the upbeat opener "You are the Best Thing," Ray sets a mood much more akin to his debut Trouble than to the beautiful bleakness of 2006's Till the Sun Turns Black.
Boys, this album is the perfect record for a fall romance. "Let it be Me" is sweet song of encouragement. Leona Naess's harmonies on the ballad "A Falling Through," accented by the pedal steel, are heart-melting. "I Still Care for You" evokes a windblown, empty graveyard apology. "Hey Mama, Hey Me" is a countrified ragtime singalong, so put this on when you drive your date to the Terrebone Corn Maze. "Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)" grunts and travels like a steam engine, and will help warm you up afterwards ... maybe even steam the windows.
If things get too serious, just put on Track Six. "Meg White" has a quirky, Andrew Bird-meets-Strawberry Fields feel-a rollicking flirt of a stalker song. Ray just wants to ride bikes on the beach with the White Stripes drummer; when he sings "old Jack was keen, but you stole the scene," you can't help but chuckle.
This record continues LaMontagne's homage to Otis Redding and Joe Cocker. His somewhat predictable songwriting is forgiven by the timeless sound and musicianship surrounding each song. Ray's voice trumps all; it is the gold standard in all his albums. The complexities carried in his voice rival that of human touch. His voice can hold your hand tightly till it bruises, leave scratches, or, as in both the title and closing tracks, bring gentle kisses. - Kaycee Anseth Townsend