Till the Sun Turns Black
The Music Box's #7 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2006, Volume 13, #8
Written by John Metzger
In an age where instant gratification reigns supreme, albums frequently are front-loaded with the songs that hold the biggest potential for becoming hit singles. Rare, then, is an outing such as Ray LaMontagne’s Till the Sun Turns Black, which courageously subverts conventional wisdom by beginning with the decidedly non-commercial Be Here Now. A somber, weary meditation that is stretched to more than six minutes in length, it is, perhaps, the most challenging of the 11 tracks featured on the effort. Yet, the loveliness of its hushed ambiance — which combines the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar, whispered vocals, slowly descending piano runs, and an understated string arrangement — perfectly sets the mood for everything that follows.
Throughout Till the Sun Turns Black, LaMontagne further refines the approach that he employed on his breakthrough Trouble, but where the latter outing tended to stay within a fairly limited framework, the former finds him branching out into an array of fully compatible directions. True, songs like Barfly and Gone Away from Me rekindle the Van Morrison-esque atmospherics of his debut, but with the help with veteran producer Ethan Johns, LaMontagne also subtly incorporates many new textures into his work. The sparse, folk-driven Lesson Learned, for example, draws its mesmerizing dynamics from Richie Havens’ canon, while the mournful violin accompaniment that is draped across the country tilt of Empty recalls Ryan Adams’ softer musings. Elsewhere, Can I Stay evokes the fragility of Damien Rice’s O as well as the melodiousness of Paul McCartney’s vast repertoire, and as the title track slips into the concluding Within You, the influence of John Lennon is brought to the fore.
Till the Sun Turns Black’s highlights, however, are a pair of tunes that are tucked into the middle of the set. The first is Three More Days, an impassioned, horn-kissed, deep-soul groove that finds common ground between Bill Withers and Legion of Mary. The second is the rolling blues of You Can Bring Me Flowers, which shifts into a spry, jazzy interlude before it fades away. Presented more like an album than a CD, Till the Sun Turns Black begs for the pops and clicks of vinyl, but even without them, it provides positive proof that LaMontagne’s debut wasn’t a fluke.
Of Further Interest...
Till the Sun Turns Black is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box