Ray LaMontagne is a difficult man to deduce. Throughout 80 minutes ofperforming at the Union Chapel, he spoke audibly only briefly,and he hardly stopped for breath before breaking into song.
He is, apparently, chronically shy but in the current climate of a JamesBlunt-induced singer-songwriter mass takeover, it was refreshing to watch aman perform who seemed energised and liberated as soon as he hit a note yetretiringly shy without a guitar in his hand.
No self-promotion, amusing anecdotes, celebrity guests or flashing lights;just a modest man with an extraordinary rasping voice and some very pleasantsongs.
Starting with the delicate Shelter, he covered a dozen tracks from hisfirst release Trouble and the recent Till The Sun Turns Black in themost basic of styles, shouts of “We love you Ray!” bought only anembarrassed smile as he appeared to apply a furrowed-brow level ofconcentration and intensity to each track – Ray LaMontagne is clearly a manto whom his music means a great deal and it shows.
The venue was also a poignant choice with the Union Chapel promoting a reservedambience in its seated audience which was a perfect match for a performancethat involved no showmanship but a great deal of devotion to musicalexcellence by the artist.
Even to the point where he stopped a few bars into a song having made an inaudible mistake, only restarting after a mumbledapology which simply drew more quiet adulation from the audience.
After 30 odd minutes of original material the audience were treated to smallselection favourite covers – this is, however, where the reservedperformance proves a little frustrating. It was impossible to hear hisobviously heartfelt descriptions and explanation of the cover he was aboutto play (unless you were sat at the front of the Chapel) so the songs had nocontext and only the most ardent music lover might have been able to placetheir origin.
That said, he did produce one outstanding cover of a Nina Simone track before reverting back to his own material for the last half ofthe evening.
Despite a curfew of 10pm the evening was only just coming to a climax whenthe hour approached and the lyrics of Trouble were howled through theChapel. But this is no criticism, he has a unique guttural voice that isunmatched by almost anything you’ll hear and although he may not be much towatch on-stage, tracks like Till The Sun Turns Black (complete with mouthorgan accompaniment) more than make up for any shortcomings in what was afascinating display of modesty and fine music.