Every once in a while a singer/songwriter comes down the pike in the grand emotive tradition of Neil Young and Van Morrison. In the early 2000s, the quietly intense folk of Iron & Wine and the rootsy-experimental stylings of Sufjan Stevens continued that lineage. Ray LaMontagne, whose impressive 2004 debut, TROUBLE, draws on alt-country, roots rock, and progressive folk in a unique, strikingly sincere way, seems a likely candidate for the keeper of the flame.
The title track, which opens the album, introduces LaMontagne's deeply textured singing. Simultaneously raw, lilting, and expansive, LaMontagne's voice bristles with emotion, and immediately commands the listener's attention. Though the instrumentation on the album rarely changes--strummed acoustic guitar, tasteful string arrangements, bass, drums, and electric guitar for accents--the moods shift subtly from song to song. "Burn" is harrowingly intimate and hushed, while "How Come" works a shuffling groove and "Hold You in My Arms" has a wistful, waltz-like feel. LaMontagne's lyrics, strong on narrative detail and vivid imagery, are the crowning touch on these moving songs of love and loss. TROUBLE is so well realized, in fact, that it sometimes belies the truth that this is the artist's first effort.
Rolling Stone (p.177) - 3 stars out of 5 - "It has a dusky ambience that highlights his sandpaper croon and suggests songful possibility."
Uncut (p.99) - 4 stars out of 5 - "[Q]uietly magnificent."
Uncut (p.75) - Ranked #14 in Uncut's "Best New Albums of 2004" - "[A] gloriously uncontaminated record..."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.96) - 3 stars out of 5 - "LaMontagne is blessed with a wood-smoky Paul Rodgers-meets-Norah Jones delivery, oozing the rough-hewn sensitivity of mid-'70s Marlboro ads and Kris Kristofferson movies....He's something special indeed."