Music

Ray LaMontagne: Till the Sun Turns Black

Dara Kartz

Singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne finds his way out of his cabin only to get lost in the background of his sophomore release.


Ray LaMontagne

Till the Sun Turns Black

Label: RCA
US Release Date: 2006-08-29
UK Release Date: 2006-10-09
Amazon
iTunes

Ray LaMontagne has done a great job of staying just under the radar. His debut album, Trouble, was a bare-bones gem of Americana-tinged folk that snuck its way on to many critics' "Best Of " lists for 2004 and sold 250,000 copies with barely any press or promotion. While the outpouring of accolades and the influx of fans from this release would assume a more public role for LaMontagne, he prefers to remain safely tucked away with his family in a cabin somewhere in Maine … the exact location, like other personal details, he refuses to divulge to the press. Interviews are few and far between, appearances and performances typically an awkward reflection of how uncomfortable the artist is in any sort of public spotlight. In his short career, LaMontagne already has a solid track record as a more challenging interview subject and his shyness has often forced him to perform only once the house lights have been turned out. But then there are the songs that he writes: intimate and honest expressions of that shyness and restlessness, tender musings and torn pleadings on those themes. Trouble introduced audiences to an artist who insists on approaching his songwriting as a true craftsman, creating softly tormented songs that are at once beautiful and bitter. With this formula proving so successful for LaMontagne, one would expect to see more of the same on his sophomore release, but it's not Trouble Part Two that we're given.

A second pairing with acclaimed producer Ethan Johns (Rufus Wainwright, Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon) on Till the Sun Turns Black has deliberately brought about a distinctly different feel from LaMontagne's debut. Johns was eager to steer the project away from the Americana-bluesy feel of their first collaboration and essentially what this seems to mean for this latest release is the refusal to pair just Ray's voice with his guitar anymore. Instead, there are countless string sections that appear, imposing horn routines throughout the record, and even a distracting flute solo. It's a nice intention, encouraging artistic growth and experimentation. The intention comes at an unfortunate price in this case, since it was precisely the bare-bones showcase of the debut album that translated LaMontagne's poignant and sometimes painful lyrics so beautifully. Frankly, the artist's voice gets lost here among the brass acrobatics, and is particularly hard to even make out in the first couple of tracks, where LaMontagne sings at barely more than a whisper.

The album's second song, "Empty", wonders "Will I always feel this way -- so empty and estranged?". Intentionally or not, it's a question that foreshadows what listeners can expect from the rest of the album: wallowing themes of emptiness, alienation, and restlessness, but LaMontagne's voice fills each song with a warmth that entirely contradicts the bleak subject matter. Just like on Trouble, the sincerity of LaMontagne's songwriting is a uniquely powerful force. It's unfortunate that the message this time gets complicated with odd and unnecessary additions like '70s-style horn arrangements. Nowhere is the unnecessary excess more obvious than on the Joe Cocker-esque "Three More Days", where LaMontagne's raspy wail sits atop a background of soulful horns, bluesy drums, and an incessantly groovy organ. It's way too much. The experimentation is far more successful on tracks like "Can I Stay" and "Gone Away from Me", where the inclusion of strings accents, subtle horn arrangements, and even ukulele are far more appropriate matches with the artist's songwriting style, and the vocals are finally turned up beyond a whisper.

You won't find the sort of fall-out-of-your seat fare on this release that had listeners clamoring for copies of LaMontagne's debut. The charm of the simplicity of Trouble is far from where Till the Sun Turns Black has headed and some of the power behind the message has been lost along the way. That the strength of the songs and the songwriting is still so obvious is a true testament to this artist's talent.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image