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April 29, 2014 | Format: MP3

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Digital Booklet: Supernova
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Format: Audio CD
One thing music has taught me is that if at the very core of the song there is a great melody, then it doesn't matter how you dress it up, experiment with it, change the style, lay the production on thick or completely stip it down...if you've got a great melody, you've got a great song. And people will keep listening. Case in point, the Beatles, Radiohead, REM, Wilco, Iron & Wine...despite the collidescope of changing sounds, experimentation, reinvention and influences used to color their songs, at the heart of those songs are still simple, great melodies. And Supernova is FULL of great melodies. Albeit painted with new and very different colors (psychedelic colors in this case). Sure, when I first heard the single Supernova, I felt the same way as many of the harsh reviewers here did. I mean, come on! A sunny and poppy Ray LaMontagne song with hand claps and cutesy bells?!! Ahhh! But dang, that's a catchy melody! Thinking (hoping) it was a fluke, I heard Lavender and it was less poppy but more of the same. Yet again, I loved that wicked acoustic guitar lick and the melody despite everything else and kept listening to it. Now, upon hearing the whole album, I gotta say that this is CLASSIC Ray and brilliantly done. This is an album best heard with headphones (in a room with black lights and a lava lamp). Each time I listen to it I hear different sounds and textures going on in each song. Despite Lavendar's psychedelic sound I also hear pedal steel guitar all based upon that folkie acoustic guitar riff. All these songs could have easily been recorded with just Ray and the acoustic guitar...and everyone would have loved it! But ultimately it would leave no sense of discovery and wouldn't challenge Ray or his fans. Ray had pretty much perfected that dusty folk and blue-eyed soul sound.Read more ›
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It takes an artist courage to forge a new path rather than stay in a safe place. A path that has garnered him critical praise and sales recognition. The four previous releases spanning from 2004-2010 were folk rock music in the vein of Joni Mitchell, John Prine among others. All previous releases were acoustic all vocals were front and center which had Ray's trademark soulful vocal delivery wrapped around lyrics that were deep and spoke to the wounded soul. These gems included "Trouble" "Shelter" and "Empty" to name a few. In setting out for the fifth CD the artist was more than prepared to write another "Jolene" but the music was not speaking to him instead what inspired him was clearly music from the Troggs, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles and throw in a little of the Byrds for good measure. The result is a CD that fuses the sounds of folk incorporating pedal steel and psychedelic rock with the sounds of Hammond Organ, Mellotron, and Electric Organ all those found in the opening track "Lavender" a dreamy Beatle-like tune. Ray deliberately set out to not have his vocals front and center but rather wanted them incorporated into the song. "Ojai" is the track that most likely could have slipped into "God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise" and is a favorite from those struggling to see the change. The tune is Neil Young in its delivery and the storytelling harkens to a traditional folk-rock sound with just a hint of the Hammond Organ but the Pedal Steel taking a more pronounced role. "She's the One" is the rock out tune while "Pick up a Gun" is the most dark song and yet the music has a sing-song quality that can fool the listener if they don't listen to the lyrics closely. The title track "Supernova" is perhaps the happiest song.Read more ›
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Format: Audio CD
There are only a handful of artists I love and respect enough that I will pre-order their upcoming CD without even listening to it first. I count Ray LaMontagne in that group. I will admit that I did not know what to think when hearing “Supernova” for the first time. This is definitely a departure from the folksy Americana sounds of his previous albums. A few of my initial thoughts were “Ray has sold out” and “This sounds too sugary sweet to be a Ray album.”

But as I have listened to “Supernova” more, I realize the songs are well crafted as usual. The overall feel based on the layering and instrumentation is of 60’s psychedelic pop. I really hear a lot of the Zombies in this music. Producer Dan Auberbach honed in on the type of LaMontagne song that uses his voice in a sparse way with long searching notes (think “Barfly or “Be Here Now” from his second album) and added the above mentioned instrumentation to create something unlike anything else you will hear released in 2014.

Bottom line, if you are a Ray LaMontagne fan than you should buy this album. Expect the same excellent songwriting, just not the same sound that you would consider typical for Ray. This is a good, but not great album (hence the 4/5 stars). I consider this an intriguing detour in his career; it shows the musical growth of an artist and puts an album in his discography that will occupy its own unique niche. As good as this album is, count me in the group that hopes Ray will return to the sound of his last album.
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