Ray Lamontagne's new album TILL THE SUN TURNS BLACK makes a solid follow up to his great 2004 debut TROUBLE. TROUBLE introduced a singer who was favorably compared to such heavy weights as Van Morrison and Otis Redding.
While TROUBLE hit you over the head with it's great title track and then continued with some songs in a similar mode, the new album is a different beast altogether. TILL THE SUN TURNS BLACK moves at a slow simmer, rising only above a whisper on a couple of tunes. Despite it's subtlety, this album packs the same emotional punch as its predecessor. Lamontagne's songs are floated on quiet string and brass arrangements with acoustic guitar and stirring vocals to create a music that falls somewhere between the blues and the music of Nick Drake. It all shadows and smoke.
Fans of TROUBLE will no doubt find much to like here, but will need to approach this new release with patience. A point of reference for existing fans would be TROUBLE's closing track ALL THE WILD HORSES. It is an album that will reward the listener with more depth each time they play it.
on October 3, 2006
I first heard Ray Lamontagne while driving to work in Indianapolis. I was listening to the independently owned radio station broadcasting out of Bloomington and 'Trouble' came out of my two-door Honda's meager speakers. People may question whether love-at-first-sight exists and the discussion can go around the moon and back without a definitive answer but I'll never question falling in love with a song. 'Trouble' became a definitive song in my life and the album as a whole solidified Ray Lamontagne's place among my favorite artists.
So, when I was purchasing a book in a major retail bookstore in downtown Boston, their last-minute-marketing attempts caught me unawares as I stood there looking at Ray's new album. I admit, I'd lost touch and wasn't even aware that a new album was being released! I bought it without a second look and it lived in my bag for over twenty-four hours until I had the opportunity to break it open and listen to it from beginning to end.
First listen: Solid follow-up album that is clearly more-produced that the debut. Initially I felt it might have been a little over-produced with splashes of horn-sections and strings. It was clearly in contrast to the bare-bones, mostly-accoustic debut album.
Second listen: Wait...what's the name of the second track? This song is beautiful! Absolutely haunting and...start it over from the beginning. Resist the temptation to put this one track on repeat. . .
Third listen: This album is not at all overproduced. It's brilliant and, as I would expect, the lyrics and melodies are gorgeous.
And to shamelessly make an allusion to the fourth track, "Three more days" I implore you to give it three more listens if at first you feel ambivalent. This album is a treasure.
on April 1, 2007
Till The Sun Turns Black is the second terrific album by singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne, whose first wonderful album, was Trouble (2004). Ray is not a cheerful or sunny soul (the title should be a hint of that, no?). Rather, like Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Kelly Joe Phelps, he mostly mines the caves of sadness, loss, weariness, lassitude, and sorrow. He sings in a hushed and plaintive voice which is like the far off sounds of a train, mournful and distant. Don't get me wrong, Ray is wonderful to hear, just don't spin this disc if you are already feeling a bit, shall we say, desperate. Or then again, maybe you should. Just maybe his own wretched misery would be enough to make you say, "Hey, at least I don't feel THAT bad." But joking, aside, this album, despite being slightly tarnished by too much fancy strings and orchestral sounding background, has some truly stellar gems.
The song "Empty" is sheer poetry:
"lay your blouse across the chair,
let fall the flowers from your hair
and kiss me with that country mouth, so plain.
outside, the rain is tapping on the leaves,
to me it sounds like they're applauding us the quiet love we made.
will i always feel this way?
so empty, so estranged"
Buy the album for "Empty" but stay and listen to the whole thing. It is well worth it. Thank you Mr. LaMontagne.
on August 30, 2006
"Can you see the wise man simply living, loving quietly..." so sings Ray LaMontagne on the title track of his latest release Till The Sun Turns Black. It's a lyric, you sense, that is close to the singer-songwriters heart, if not even some sort of personal credo. For Ray LaMontagne and his music are most determinedly not of this ever more frenetic age - and thank goodness for that. It's comforting to know that there are still genuine, unadulterated back-woods musical geniuses out there. LaMontagne's songs seem to naturally embody the same sort of spirit, feel and grain of artists like Otis Redding, Van Morrison, Stephen Stills, and Ray Charles and yet even after just one album, his voice and style are umistakably his own. One listen to Ray LaMontagne and you don't soon forget it. Quite simply, the man moves me, and he also soothes my soul. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this.
It's wonderful to discover then, that after the success of LaMontagne's 2004 debut Trouble, his new songs have lost nothing in the way of their original unpretensious, heart-on-sleeve earthiness. If anything, Till The Sun Turns Black is a touch more somber than Trouble, with a profound sense of melancholy running through even the lighter moments. Songs about hard times, self-doubt, and lost love can generally be relied upon to be compelling, but rarely are they so effortlessly graceful, hauntingly sincere and unutterably beautiful as they are on Till The Sun Turns Black. Aided once more by the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Ethan Johns (it's hard to imagine any other producer for LaMontagne) the two prove beyond all doubt that Trouble was no fluke. It was in fact, only the beginning. Without altering his style drastically, LaMontagne has really broadened his approach here.
The fragile, bewitching Be Here Now opens proceedings, and immediately you are transfixed by waves of cascading piano, guitar, violins, atmospheric touches and LaMontagne himself repeating the title like a man possessed. It's a tremendously moving start, and quite different to anything we've heard from him before - and it gets even better. `Empty' follows, in all of it's broken-down, desolate glory, and it's about as beautiful a Ray LaMontagne song as is possible to imagine. Over stirring, elegant strings the singer sets the scene - " She lifts her skirt up to her knees... walks through the garden rows with her barefeet laughing" before proceeding to knock that pretty image down with a crushing blow - "I've never learned to count my blessings but choose instead to dwell in my disasters". Clearly, the hellhounds on his trail have not been so easy to shake off. Like much of the songwriters work, `Empty' has a truly widescreen, cinematic feel. You could imagine it working brilliantly in a recent film like Brokeback Mountain, or, going back a few years, something like Badlands. More than once during the course of this song, as well as on other tracks like the stirring `Lesson Learned' or the Lennon-esque album closer `Within You' - the thought has struck me - how can one man's voice convey so much feeling? It's not only abundantly present in the soulful timbre of his voice, but also in the way he delivers a line. By turns hesitant, wistful, vulnerable, and impassioned.
It's tempting at this point in my review to go through and dissect each successive track on Till The Sun Turns Black, but I'll spare you all of my gushing praise and leave it for your ears to experience, rather than your eyes. Suffice to say though, whether LaMontagne turns his hand to funky, rump-shaking soul (Three More Days) or simple, unaffected balladry (Can I Stay) or rough-hewn, down & out blues (You Can Bring Me Flowers), the resulting songs, without exception, succeed on all counts. Till The Sun Turns Black is another wonderfully assured step forward for this enigmatic, deeply talented artist.
Highlights: Be Here Now, Empty, Three More Days, Lesson Learned, Till The Sun Turns Black
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on January 9, 2007
I first heard the single "Trouble" on WBOS in Boston. They, and in particular George Knight, were championing him as a New England home-grown singer/songwriter. I was drawn to his voice and talent immediately.
On the CD "Trouble", producer Ethan Johns took Lamontagne's simple guitar songs and, by taking a minimalist approach, gracefully complemented his sound with brush drums and occasional string accompaniements. The product was a sound that highlighted Lamontagne's voice instead of drowning it in overproduction.
On "Till The Sun Turns Black", a brilliant "mood" album, Lamontagne sounds less like the I'm-just-glad-to-be-here newcomer and much more like he's invested in the effort. He is a man possessed with a need to deliver emotion but he does so with a controlled delivery. His vocals are more nuanced than on "Trouble'. They evoke real emotion instead of concern for whether his voice can carry the load.
While "Three More Days", a catchy R&B tune, may seem out of place here, I suspect it was part of a bargain with the record company to deliver at least one radio-friendly track on an otherwise extremely introspective album. At least it's a good song whose opening riffs evoke aural images of Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man".
Although dark and appropriate more for late night headphones than for the drive to work, "Till The Sun Turns Black" is one of the best CD's I've heard in the 2000's. The songs are brilliant and, once again, the production is spare and deferential to the emotions RL's heart is pouring out.
Outstanding work here. RL's a truly unique talent...and he's blessed with restrained production.
on September 12, 2006
There's been a couple of cds I've recently purchased which are follow ups to cds I consider almost impossible to surpass the previous efforts of those performers including Dylan, Bob Schneider, Pete Yorn - and then there's Ray LaMontagne.
To me it would be a nearly impossible task to surpass the briliance of "Trouble", which to me is up there with my favorite CDs of all time.
So I purchased Til The Sun Turns Black with lowered expectations, not thinking it could ever come close to Trouble. But I was wrong, it does come close, and on some songs it surpasses. And what was a very nice surprise is Ray does not try and copy the essence of what made Trouble such a remarkable CD, true this may get catagorized as folk, but it goes off in so many different directions. What remains the same though is the pain in Ray's voice, which it's every bit as beautiful as it was in Trouble.
The standout tracks for me are the opener Be Here Now, Barfly (with Rachael Yamagata sining backup), Can I Stay is absolutely beautiful; Gone Away From Me is reminicent of the Beatles at their best; Lessons Learned, just Ray playing acoustic and Spanish guitar with beautiful lyrics; Truely, Madly Deeply is almost a continuence of the previous song with Ray playing Spanish guitar; Within You is a very "Lennonistic" song which seems to be protesting war and advocating love and peace.
I would highly recommend this cd not only to anyone who enjoyed "Trouble" but to anyone who appreciates great music.
on November 20, 2015
I really just bought it after sampling the song Empty and I gotta say, It's my favorite album by him. Plenty of stand out tracks and it's pretty much Ray, his guitar, and a basic beat. Nothing overly produced.
on December 20, 2006
The problem is, the moments are few and far between. The best song on this album, by far, is Gone Away From Me and you don't get to it until track 7. Absolutely worth it once you get there though. "Be Here Now" drags on a little too long without changing. "Empty" gave me some hope as it had such a promising sound, but it too didn't hold my interest throughout. I admit, Gone Away From Me doesn't do that much changing throughout it's air time, but the lyrics kept me hooked in... the other songs, not so much. The last song, "Within You" is another good song but it fails to rescue the album as a whole.
I think it's important to read reviews that disagree with your own opinions, so think about it.
on October 24, 2006
...is the first thing I said when I put on "Till The Sun Turns Black" for the first time. Ray Lamontagne has seemed to put away his Van Morrisson records which inspired him for his debut album "Trouble" and picked up a copy of "Pink Moon" by the aforementioned Drake. This new record seems to be an opposite reaction to "Trouble" and I think it works. Yet, my problem with both of his LP's is that they aren't great records straight through. I rarely listen to the last half of "Trouble", except for the wonderfully serene "All The Wild Horses", because all of the stand out tracks appear in the first 5 slots (a problem with the sequencing on many modern albums). While "Till The Sun Turns Black" is a better sequenced album I still think it could have been stronger. Yes the songs are dark, brooding, and delicate but we've heard much of this before from other artists. I wish Lamontagne had branched out a bit more with this album. I am all for beautifully restrained music but this is almost too low key without pushing the envelope enough. It's not anywhere near the inspiration of a Nick Drake album because not only did Drake sound like this over thirty years ago, but he did it with more artistry and dynamics.
Lamontagne should have taken notes on progression from albums like "Sea Change" by Beck or drenched this one in more emotion as Damien Rice did on his masterful "O". What I really wish is that Lamontagne had combined "Trouble" with this one. Mix the best five tracks from each LP and make one album, that would have been an incredible venture. I think Ray is still finding himself as a songwriter. Hopefully we have not seen his definitive work as of yet. Once he's done with all of the impersonations we'll see how he does. "Till The Sun Turns Black" is a nice, well produced album, but it's nothing Lamontagnes heroes haven't done in the distant past.
on February 4, 2014
For those who like quality singer-songwriter work, heavy on the country but without the cliche's (musical and lyrical) and the over-done drawl, with a good mix of old-cowboy and blues, Ray LaMontange is always a solid choice. Check out the fantastic song "Empty".