Ray LaMontagne – Till The Sun Turns Black (2006): Review

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Produced by Ethan Johns
Label – RCA

In 2006, it seemed the UK scene was awash with ‘sing ‘em and weep’ singer songwriters, strumming erstwhile anthems of heartache, love and loss. Amongst the clean cut, homogenized, chart targeted sensitive boys, like Blunt, Morrison and Nutini sits the shaggily bearded, gravel toned American Ray LaMontagne. Unfortunately, he’s been pigeon holed in this slot, and his cause hadn’t been helped by a decision to tour with the king of safe facile mainstream Pop, David Gray. It’s a shame really because LaMontagne is a genuine cut above the artists he shares preconceived associations with, and the sparse honesty of his debut “Trouble” a couple of years before, was successful on the basis of strong songs, not emotional sentiment. One suggests he understands the situation, as ‘Til The Sun Turns Black’ is a deeper and darker, more restrained, less chart friendly and infinitely more personal than its predecessor. Retaining the services of Ethan Johns is a good move too. Johns is a master arranger, and his understated string and keyboard additions develop a sense of haunting melancholy, perfectly phased in with LaMontagne’s hoarse whispers.

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‘Be Here Now’ is quite simply the best song the Maine man had recorded thus far. Ray’s reassurance is tender and warm, and supported by a sweet string arrangement and intimate descending piano melody. ‘Empty’ is almost as startling, a bleak song of loss, played over a soft minimal country heartbeat rhythm. It’s not all chin to the floor doom and gloom as the upbeat soul of ‘Three More Days’ reminds one of Van Morrison in his prime, and the pop melody of ‘Gone Away From Me’, has the hallmark of Paul Simon circa 1972. There are moments where the mood is a little too pedestrian and needs an injection of instrumental vitality, particularly ‘Lesson Learned’ and the over long closer ‘Within You’, but on the whole ‘Til The Sun Turns Black’ is a commendable effort, less predictable than one would have thought or expected.

There’s a quiet timelessness about ‘Til The Sun Turns Black’, a persuasive recording filled with honest songwriting, skilled arrangements, and a simplicity that feels so natural it’s both absorbing and fulfilling.

7/10

Track Listing
“Be Here Now” – 6:23
“Empty” – 5:17
“Barfly” – 3:55
“Three More Days” – 3:36
“Can I Stay” – 3:41
“You Can Bring Me Flowers” – 4:12
“Gone Away from Me” – 4:27
“Lesson Learned” – 4:39
“Truly, Madly, Deeply” – 1:52
“Till The Sun Turns Black” – 4:28
“Within You” – 5:43

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6 responses to “Ray LaMontagne – Till The Sun Turns Black (2006): Review

  1. Wouldn’t disagree with you. I remember hearing All The Wild Horses on an Uncut cover CD way back and really thinking “oh aye”. I got into Trouble (ha!) in a big way and when I mentioned to folks they definitely dropped him in the same space as Gray and Rice, etc. I like this one, though. Not sure if it tops Trouble, right enough.

    My favourite is God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise.

    • Yeah, I was a bit sniffy when I first heard “Trouble” because of the fact that he was dropped in with some really dull acts of the time. But you’re right, it’s infinitely better than Gray and Rice.

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