To look at, Ray LaMontagne is the stereotypical folksy singer-songwriter: a full scruffy beard, longish hair, and eyes with a depth that suggests soul-searching and world-weariness. Add to his appearance a mesmerizing, raspy sandpaper voice, honest lyrics and melodic tunes and you have a musical diamond – albeit rough and uncut.
LaMontagne’s critically acclaimed debut album, the stunningly beautiful Trouble was well received on both sides of the pond (in the UK, it sold more than 500,000 copies). Following it up could potentially be difficult – but with Til The Sun Turns Black, LaMontagne proves he’s more than a one-trick pony.
The album is, however, a very different beast than Trouble. It has more orchestration than its predecessor: most notably strings and horns, though the best instrument from LaMontagne’s debut album remains the same – his dramatic ‘I’ve drunk too much whisky’ voice.
Opening the album is Be Here Now, a six-minute ethereal whisper of a song supported by descending piano runs and ambient strings. It is a thousand-miles from Trouble’s title track, LaMontagne’s debut album’s first track, and perfectly paves the way for the melancholy, heartfelt songs to come.
Empty is a beautiful breathy folk song and is a great example of LaMontagne’s excellent storytelling, being about loss and love. His brutally honest lyrics, such as “I must admit you kinda bore me” and forlorn sincere self-pity, “I never learned to count my blessings, I choose instead to dwell in my disasters”, brings forth comparisons with Joni Mitchell. Can I Stay is another outstanding storytelling number, a wonderful ballad filled with isolation and romance. It is about a man who asks, “Can I stay here with you till the morning?”
A diversion from the Maine singer’s slower songs, and two of the album’s highlights, are the upbeat blues-rock number Three More Days and You Can Bring Me Flowers, a funky folk-blues with a jazzy lilt portrayed through horns and flute.
The final track on Til The Sun Turns Black is the lush Within You, a beautiful anti-war song with a Beatles-esque feel, giving the impression that had John Lennon lived in the noughties, he and LaMontagne would have been friends.
Til The Sun Turns Black is a remarkable, solid follow-up album to Trouble and firmly cements LaMontagne next to other folk alumni such as Tim Buckley, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. All eleven songs are musical gems that make your heart ache and wonder what melancholy beauty LaMontagne has in store for us with album number three.