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From Dyed-in-the Wool Folkie to Tie-Dyed...But It's Still Ray!
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!