Customer Reviews: Supernova
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on May 5, 2014
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. With this album Ray breaks that ceiling and shows that he can do anything. I think what people love most about Ray is his voice and his melodic gifts. Frankly, I was turned off a bit at first with the last album "God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise" because of its heavy country lilt. Yet his amazing voice and melodies drew me into the songs. It's no different with Supernova. It's all there, just in a different presentation. This is a ROCK record. If, like me, you loved Ray but secretly wished he would rock out a bit more...then you have to get this album. If you're an old fan but hesitant or even completely turned off by the new sound...keep listening. I actually think Ray took such fans to heart in the way he tempered the track list. Each more experimental song seems to be shortly followed by one more accessible and familiar. I find it hard to accept that old fans won't soon come to love songs like Airwaves, No Other Way, Ojai (which could have been on "God Willing") or Drive-in Movies. Some of my long time favorite albums were ones that initially disappointed and frustrated me, but I kept listening. Slowly but surely I came to love those albums for those very reasons. They challenged me and forced me to listen to my beloved artist in a new way. Now when I listen to albums like that I can't see why I didn't immediately recognize how great they were. Those are the best kind of albums!
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on April 30, 2014
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. The most autobiographical song in the set is "Drive-In Movies" clearly from Ray's days in Nebraska when he was so poor he had to jump in the back of his uncle's truck to catch a movie when he sings "Now I'm grown and have kids of my own, I never thought that I could be a Dad, Me and my girl going strong" for the old time fans of Ray, its a declaration of success from a childhood that was so tragic. Much credit goes to Dan Auerbach for assembling a talented group of musicians , including Dan himself (singing back-up vocals and electric guitar) in the making of this CD. For those that can go on the musical journey this CD will be a joy, and for those that like artists to remain the same this CD will require multiple listens before you can appreciate the creativity that went into this release.
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on April 29, 2014
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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on May 10, 2014
Everyone is a critic I guess. How many of these reviews are done by musicians? If you like his older stuff then just enjoy the older stuff. I just now bought the vinyl and got it spinning, worried just a bit about the negative reviews. I shoulda known. This album is one tasty piece of music. If you have never played in a band, or played music, just know that it gets incredibly old doing the same stuff over and over and over and over again. Trying to make the "same old" seem fresh. And if he puts out another one of those albums then people trash that album saying it sounds the same as all his old stuff. I'm listening to this album for the first time as I write this. And I used to be one of those people who took 30 listens to a new album before I was like "ok, ya, it's good." I thought "Gossip in the Grain" sounded stale. Pariah Dogs stuff sounded good. This album sounds like Ray enjoyed making it. Which makes me dig it that much more. To all of you who didn't enjoy it the first time...listen to it 29 more times. Ya might be surprised.
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on May 2, 2014
I have been a die hard Ray fan since way back to One Lonesome Saddle, Acre of Land, etc.. I probably have every song he has ever recorded, and a ton of live stuff featuring covers and songs he's only done live. He's by far one of my favorite artists of all time.

Having said that, I'm not giving this lackluster review because I don't like the severe change in his style. I am giving this review because I sincerely feel that if you are going to venture into a different genre so suddenly and strikingly, you have to at least bring something new to the table. Ray's older folk/Americana style certainly didn't reinvent the wheel, but his incredible voice and amazing lyrics set him apart and made him stand out as an amazing talent amongst his peers.

So now he's obviously staking his new territory into the trippy, 60's psychedelic bubble gum pop style but the truth is he adds nothing to what's already been done. Vocally he pretty much drowns out his incredible talent with most songs having a reserved double and triple vocal tracks where his lead vocal never stands out. On top of that the writing is pretty subpar and standard at best. None of these songs are really going to tug at any of your emotions lyrically. No deep emotion such as Empty, no thought provoking songs such as Be Here Now or How Come, nothing.

In the end what this is really is just a carbon copy of what's already been done in the era where it was actually new and cool. If this was some band off the street's debut album it wouldn't get the time of day. Because it's Ray alot of people automatically give it the benefit of the doubt but frankly this is not very new, not very inventive, and just not very good. If you want to hear this style of music, go listen to the original artists like the Mama & Papas, The Byrds, The Beatles, Tommy James and the Shondells, Moody Blues.......
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on April 30, 2014
This is not the classic Ray LaMontagne folk sound that you know from albums past.
Don't assume that the headline song represents what most of this album sounds like!

This is a major departure. I don't often order albums without hearing them, but Ray has proven himself in the past as someone I'd do this for... until now. From the very beginning this album is a real venture into a 60's psychedelic sound. Ray is almost singing background vocals on most songs, helping fill the trippy, and busy, musical runs. Think lots of filtering and echo to his voice with a 60's instrumental sound, and a LOT of it at once. I don't mean to say it's not good music, but it's definitely not my thing.
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on July 30, 2014
Walt Whitman (paraphrase) said: All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the instruments. Ray's music has always painted pictures in my mind or elicited feelings I thought unshared with others. This album brings me back to my youth when summer lasted a year and the transistor was held tightly to my ear, metallic smell and all. I first heard Supernova at the tail end of a Letterman that taped with my Craig (not ready for that farewell...). Could tell it veered from the usual but I bought the album anyway (hint to my age). Just when I think I might grow tired of a song I like it all over again. Ojai, Drive-in, Airwaves, and even Supernova have great melodies and/or bridges that I'd rather lasted longer than they do. Don't mind any throwbacks to Roy Orbison/Beatles, psychedelia, it's music I want to hear. And Ray can say so much in one short phrase (what you doing rusty jeans? I buy my own smokes, maybe I'm old/ the drivein hasn't been mowed...) so cinematic and real. I'm playing ringolevio and humphreyall in the middle of the street when I hear Lavendar; hanging around the village green or Jones Beach, getting slushies at the 7-Eleven and growing up and looking back all during this album. Ojai reminds me of being in Humboldt county chasing the sunset to the beach listening to Eminence Front and hoping it all didn't end. So much awakens from me when I listen to this, written and performed by someone a decade younger than me and I think: "how can he know? how does he know?." LaMontayne is an artist and a musician, that's how. And his life has a lot more miles on it than most of his contemporaries. The miles show in every album including this one, and although I wish it had been easier for him and his family, his willingness to share lets some of us know were weren't alone. When I see art that I can totally relate to but not quite explain, or maybe not explain as well as the artist does, I know the universe is at work somehow.
Artists can go through phases or styles (Neil Young, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello) and still produce fantastic musice within that genre or just music that works with no pidgeonholing at all. The Band could do rag, blues, country, rock, it didn't matter because the music was all great. Same here for Ray LaMontayne. The production tops it all off with nicely placed piano, vocals, and different sounds that support it all. I didn't want this album to end at 10 songs. Ah, but we do live in a selfish age...
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on February 13, 2015
RL's 'goin electric 1966' moment. For me i am not attached to any style so this is AGAIN, pure GENIUS ! Ray is the "Jimi Hendrix of Folk-Rock", an artist that transcends his era. Rays stuff rains down straight out of the Collective Mind-Jimi did that too, Dylan did it but "i cayn't stand the way he sangs, loove to hear him talk".


Off topic some...

-Ray should go down in history at the level of Dylan, Beatles, etc........

He doesnt get the fanfare he deserves in mainstream (may be a good thing) Radio/Media-"Industry", too bad, same as with Soundtrack of Our Lives, Kula Shaker, etc. He as good as the greats and maybe better.

-Ray uses VINTAGE Studio Recording gear that helps to give that Vinyl-Tape-Vacuum Tube , Ole Timey sound on modern HiFi gear. This really helps and sounds GREAT.

-If youve only heard it through earbuds/mp3, gotta hear the factory 16bit (CD) through a GOOD DAC, like an Onkyo or Marantz, and Good Speakers-Headphones (over 200$ ones), or of course Vinyl.

-You DONT need a Tube preamp because He's already DONE that for you, the TUBE sound is ON the Recording, its what gives it its Magic Sound (along with great producing, etc).
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on May 15, 2014
I liked his early stuff, and I like this. I'm a bit puzzled why everyone would expect him to make the same album over and over again. I've been seeing the same reviews for the new black keys album. I can understand why not everyone would like the change in direction for these artists, but you can't begrudge them for taking a different direction in their music. if the beatles would have stuck with 'love me do' , we wouldn' be talking about them after all these years. like the 60's vibe on this album, still has his great vocals, which remind me of early van Morrison on some tracks. cool album...goes a lot of different directions...which I personally like. plus, I admire the completely different takes he did on this album. very brave move.
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on June 11, 2014
And not even seventies. The sixties, when Pink Floyd was busting out, and, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Donovan and Motown ruled the airwaves. Supernova mostly sounds like the first three: wonderful melodies, chord changes that seem so--sixties--and solos that are groovy. Just the first few measures of 'Lavender' and the listener knows they've been teleported back to bellbottoms and flowery shirts. And Airwaves is like Bill Withers, and 'She's the One' is like the Yardbirds....and it goes on.

This album is no doubt a big shock to listeners who enjoyed Ray's homage to Americana in 'God Willin', but it's pretty clear by now that Ray does not sit still.

The sound quality of the vinyl is excellent. Enveloping.
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