PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Ray LaMontagne: Gossip in the Grain

Not quite a social butterfly, but LaMontagne shows he's more than a drug-addled, half-baked songwriter.

Ray LaMontagne

Gossip in the Grain

Label: RCA
UK Release Date: Available as import
US Release Date: 2008-10-14

Ray LaMontagne likes to keep a low profile. The Jesus-bearded troubadour is sort of a recluse. He doesn't enjoy doing interviews, refuses to make music videos, and hates reviews of his work -- be they positive or negative. But for all the coffeehouse hacks trying to emulate Bob Dylan's verbosity and Van Morrison's impassioned croon, there's the soft-spoken Ray LaMontagne, singing his own wistful tunes without the weight of pretension and the hype of MTV.

Last year, the singer followed up Trouble, his debut UK chart-topper, with the more solemn, introspective album Till the Sun Turns Black. Working once again with venerable producer Ethan Johns, LaMontagne flavored his forlorn love tunes with the likes of Rachel Yamagata and John Medeski's Wurlitzer.

Now we get Gossip in the Grain, the artist's most cohesive, career-defining album to date. Most notably, the folksy balladeer takes a backseat here. Where LaMontagne usually places his forlorn lyrics over some gentle strumming, the supporting cast takes center stage here as Gossip in the Grain is LaMontagne's first album with what would be considered a full band. "It was time to open up a little bit more, not be quite so reserved in my choice of songs that I wanted to record," Ray explains about Gossip in a press release.

Recorded in Box, England, with his perennial producer Ethan Johns, Gossip in the Grain isn’t afraid to use all the weapons at its disposal, tying strings, pianos, gospel vox, and pedal steel to LaMontagne’s humble folk tunes. Ray channels his favorite theme of salvation through the love of a woman with the gut-wrenching soul lament "You Are the Best Thing”. Despite his scrawny frame, LaMontagne can sometimes approach a full-bodied baritone, and here he displays it in the depth of a soul singer. (“I’m eventually learned to sing from here,” he once said in an interview, alluding to his stomach.)

“Sarah” is a sprawling sentimental number where LaMontagne reminisces over some soothing strings and unobtrusive finger-picking. A tender reverie of his youth, he pleads, “Sarah, is it ever gonna be the same?” “A Falling Through" is vaguely similar to Trouble’s “All the Wild Horses”, mostly because Ray and his guitar come to the fore this time, leaving most of the band behind except for some pedal steel and backing vox. The latter is provided by the docile Leona Naess, harmonizing on the chorus of “Why did you go, away”. Ray even takes a brief dip into Dixieland with the rootsy foot-stomper “Hey Me, Hey Mamma", a rare laidback moment where the artist actually seems to be having a good time.

There is one baffling track, however. The painfully obvious homage to Meg White is either a form of insincere flattery or a sappy love song, take your pick. Probably the most simple and raucous song on Gossip, “Meg White” has Ray claiming that Ms. White is “mighty fine”, “the bomb”, and even fantasizing about riding “bikes down by the seaside”. Yeah, I don’t get it. Maybe it’s an effort to hold the short attentions of those who enjoyed his cover of Gnarls Barkley’s "Crazy". Whatever the case, the song isn't half bad sans the jokester lyrics, so I'll give Ray a pass on this one.

While Ray may not have exorcised his demons here, Gossip in the Grain shows that he is not some drug-addled, half-baked songwriter. It is perhaps the artist’s anti-social behavior which makes him so likable to some and so detestable to others. And what this record, and his behavior, show is that we might be dealing with some troubled genius here. But really, what other type of genius is there?


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.