Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs - God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs
God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise

(RCA)

The Music Box's #7 album of 2010

First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2011, Volume 18, #1

Written by John Metzger

Wed January 19, 2011, 06:30 AM CST

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While crafting his 2008 endeavor Gossip in the Grain, Ray LaMontagne seemed to buy into the misguided belief that if he just tempered his approach a tiny bit ó removing the rougher patches in his style and adding a dollop of strings here, a smattering of horns there ó he could make a lot of money. The problem, of course, is that the artist within him likely wasnít satisfied with the compromises he had to make.

Based upon his severely underrated sophomore set Till the Sun Turns Black, there is no doubt that LaMontagne had developed a solid working relationship with producer Ethan Johns. Nevertheless, by the time that they began recording Gossip in the Grain, their collaboration clearly had run its course. All of their forward progress was eradicated by the overly manicured nature of the latter collection. Obviously, some changes had to be implemented if LaMontagne was going to survive for the long haul.

For his fourth outing God Williní & the Creek Donít Rise, LaMontagne wisely opted to take matters into his own hands. He not only produced the endeavor, but for the first time, he also placed the name of his backing band, The Pariah Dogs, front-and-center on the albumís cover. The changes that LaMontagne made, however, run much deeper than the effortís liner notes. Although it retains the folk-imbued soulfulness of its predecessors, God Williní & the Creek Donít Rise is a fully collaborative affair. Drenched in aching pedal steel guitar, its music perfectly augments the raw, emotional content of LaMontagneís lyrics.

In conjunction with the release of Trouble ó his uneven, but significantly promising debut ó LaMontagne repeatedly emphasized how Stephen Stillsí Treetop Flyer had spurred his decision to quit his job in a shoe factory in order to begin writing songs. This story has suited the loneliness and longing that has permeated his output ever since. Likewise, it has been nearly impossible to separate Stillsí influence from LaMontagneís work, so strong is the hold of the teacher over his student.

With God Williní & the Creek Donít Rise, LaMontagne continues to look to Stills for inspiration. This time, though, he reaches for ó and achieves ó the eclecticism of Stillsí side project Manassas. As the music sculpted by LaMontagne and his agile band branches outward, it evokes a slew of other artists that range from Joe Cocker (Repo Man), John Mayer (New York Cityís Killing Me), and Van Morrison (Like Rock & Roll and Radio) to Joni Mitchell (Beg Steal or Borrow) and Neil Young (For the Summer). At the same time, LaMontagne reclaims the individuality that he brought to Till the Sun Turns Black but lost on Gossip in the Grain.

Better still, God Williní & the Creek Donít Rise contains the most cohesive suite of songs that LaMontagne has ever composed. His father was a musician with a violent streak, which caused his wife to walk away when LaMontagne was just a boy. Consequently, he grew up poor, shuffling from town to town with his mother as they tried to make ends meet. With this in mind, God Williní & the Creek Donít Rise could be viewed through an autobiographical lens.

There are moments on God Williní & the Creek Donít Rise when LaMontagne seems to be therapeutically pondering his parentsí marriage as well as the impact that it had upon his own relationships. Filled with crushing heartache and naked vulnerability, Are We Really Through and This Love Is Over serve as the centerpieces of the endeavor. Perhaps, they are personal reflections. Just as likely, he could be imagining the thoughts that raced through his fatherís mind after his mother left to find a better life.

LaMontagne has always had a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve. Nevertheless, although God Williní & the Creek Donít Rise contains its share of songs about lost love and disconnection, its lyrics also seem to speak of a need to escape in order to find some greater truth. LaMontagne knows what he wants, yet he also canít manage to hold onto it for very long. Between Like Rock & Roll and Radio and Devilís in the Jukebox, LaMontagne appears to accept the distance that remains between him and his loved ones. However, the role that music plays in his life, whether it provides salvation or is an alluring distraction, is never answered. starstarstarstar

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Of Further Interest...

Nina Simone - To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story

Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone

Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

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God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2011 The Music Box