Where To Start With... Ray LaMontagne
Reportedly inspired to quit his job in a shoe factory and pursue a career in music after hearing Stephen Stills' 'Treetop Flyer' on the radio, New Hampshire-born Ray Lamontagne spent a few years earning his stripes on the live circuit around his native New England before eventually being spotted in Maine by a businessman with connections to Chrysalis Music. A publishing deal followed and in 2004 LaMontagne was introduced to producer Ethan Johns, who was by then just beginning to build up an impressive resume of his own, with albums like Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker and a recently-completed pair of albums for Kings of Leon under his belt.
The pair struck up a creative bond and, still without a record deal secured, LaMontagne set about recording songs for what would become his debut album Trouble, which was eventually picked up by RCA Records. From there, he's been steadily crafting a soulful, folk-influenced sound that has seen him draw comparisons to the likes of Otis Redding, Van Morrison and Tim Buckley, among others.
Although commercial success was something of a slow-burn at first – it took a full two years before his debut eventually climbed into the UK Album Chart in 2006 – Trouble eventually peaked at No.5 on these shores, while three of his subsequent albums have seen him break into the Top 3 of the Billboard Chart back home.
His last album to complete that feat was 2014's Supernova, but his two albums since have fared less well and represented something of a creative detour – particularly the ambitious but dense Ouroboros, which exhibited a much harder-edged sound than his usual output – but its follow-up Part of the Light did produce one of his most popular songs to date in 'Such a Simple Thing'.
Returning this week with his eighth studio album in all and the next instalment in his growing discography after Part of the Light, Monovision represents a return to a more rootsy sound and new single 'Strong Enough' – which you can find below – is undoubtedly one of the new album's highlights.
With Monovision in stores today, we rounded up five key tracks from his career so far as a beginners' guide to the music of Ray LaMontagne...
Of all the songs in Ray LaMontagne's lovingly-crafted debut Trouble, 'Jolene' is arguably the one whose impact has been the biggest. Racking up streams in the hundreds of thousands online and a staple of his live shows even now, this remains one of his finest songs.
'Three More Days'
LaMontagne expanded his sonic palette on 2006 sophomore LP Till The Sun Turns Black with horns, funky drums and keys to produce a more soul-influenced sound than his folk-heavy debut, and while it wasn't one of the album's bigger hits 'Three More Days' is a perfect example of that shift – especially this belting live version recorded for the BBC.
'You Are The Best Thing'
Building on the soulful, funky sound of its predecessor, LaMontagne's third album Gossip in the Grain produced arguably one of his best moments with the barnstorming opener 'You Are The Best Thing', which sounds for all the world like a song recorded 40 years earlier in the studios of Motown. If the Otis Redding comparisons seemed a little far out before this song arrived, they didn't afterwards.
'For The Summer'
2010's God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise took something of a sharp turn back to his more folky side, crediting the with the singer-songwriter crediting the album to 'Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs', while working the occasional Nashville influences on songs such as the title track and 'Old Before Your Time', but while 'Beg Steal or Borrow' was probably the album's biggest hit, for our money it's 'For The Summer' that represents the album's real high watermark.
'Such A Simple Thing'
Our final pick is from LaMontagne's most recent album, 2018's Part of the Light, which represented something of a return to familiar territory after his forays into the brooding (but often wonderful) textures of Ouroboros, bringing with it one of his most well-received songs in years in 'Such a Simple Thing' and signalling a return to form that looks to have continued on his new album.
Monovision is in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store...