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Ray Lamontagne: God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise
The best way to describe this New Hampshire singer-songwriter is that he’s a lamb with the roar of a lion. Known for his raspy, heavenly voice, Ray Lamontagne’s impact on the US folk scene over the past few years cannot go unnoticed.
With four successful albums including Gossip in the Grain, which landed him at the top of Billboard charts, and Trouble, which sold nearly half a million records, Lamontagne’s touch has spread like wildfire.
Released on August 17th, God Willin' and the Creek Don’t Rise takes his talent further down the road from the bluegrass ballads to bluesy undertones; and his collaboration with the Pariah Dogs adds even more to the outstanding execution of this album. Self-produced at his rural farmhouse in Western Maine, the album’s sound is dripping with soul imagery and atmosphere. In his authentic, full-of-love style, the majority of the album is fashioned with contemplative lyrics that are laced with themes of both heartache and hope.
The opening track 'Repo Man' automatically has you grooving with its soulful undertone, maddening guitar licks and Lamontagne’s powerhouse vocals. Lamontagne lets you know that he’s sick of relationship drama: the melody is bursting with energy and leads the album off with a punch.
'Old Before your Time' is a beautifully layered ballad with a call for living life to its fullest. The melody is woven with the southern-style plucking of the banjo accompanied by his loose, earthy guitar. Reminiscent of times past; this track is poignant, relatablel, and timeless.
The popular track 'Like Rock n' Roll and Radio' carries with it a classic melancholy that Lamontagne does so delicately. Resonating its the weary-at-heart style, its metaphoric take on love is a clever yet discomforting one.
The melody of 'Devil’s in the Jukebox' transports you to a hopping little joint in the middle of nowhere. It’s filled with a country boy’s soul: the catchy lyrics, funky beat and roaring harmonica as well as a cameo by pedal steel player Greg Leisz will leave anyone wishing for a visit to good ol’ Nashville.
Ray Lamontagne's intrepid, dramatic style and perspective on love continue to shine throughout the album. He knows how to put the icing on the cake.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
You can almost guarantee that any musician hailing from a landscape filled with towering trees and sprawling mountains will incorporate that beauty into their sound. The United State’s Appalachian range is home to many folk musicians from decades back until present day that do just that.
From Vermont, Anais Mitchell is a young, vibrant lady who no doubt has spent many-a-night in a vast, open field somewhere. Mitchell is a storyteller accompanied by a naturally gritty tone and simple strum of the guitar that has ‘folk’ written all over it.
With a few EP’s behind her, Mitchell’s first full-length album Hadestown was released in 2010 - the concept weaving mythology into a grander portrayal of life and love. The album functions as a folk opera of sorts which includes theatric vocals and guest appearances by Tom Waits and Ani DeFranco; a quirky, yet beautiful little party in and of itself.
After knowing Anais based on Hadestown alone though, we couldn’t paint a picture of what her forthcoming music would sound like. Released just a few months ago, Young Man in America is missing the fun factor of Hadestown but brings with it a stripped-down Anais Mitchell.
Just as honest and emotive as before, Mitchell taps into the consciousness of modern-day America with a mystical undertone and a more serious approach. Be prepared for eleven tracks filled with pensiveness and a decent dash of sadness.
The title track isn’t subtle about it either: ‘There’s a hollow in my bones/ makin’ me cry and carry on’ – thankfully however, a mandolin and tambourine balance out the depressive lyrics; making everything right in the world.
The following track ‘Coming Down’ is a sombre and exquisite piano number with harmonies that follow suit.
‘Venus’ takes flight into the ether for a lovely two minutes and 22 seconds. Mitchell displays her cosmic sensibilities with this upbeat, harmonica-laden tune and fair warning: awfully catchy melody. Watch out.
‘Ships’ is the closing track on the album and it takes us through a story of love and leaving - being instrumentally rich and ghostly in its vocals.
Casting aside any exaggeration, Young Man in America is not completely soaking in sorrow, however it does quite poignantly describe the social condition that many of us come to face. Isn’t that what folk music has always done, though?