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Ray Lamontagne - Gossip In The Grain

Gossip In The Grain

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

RAY Lamontagne’s third album Gossip In The Grain is pretty much par for the course for this particular performer. Sometimes lively, sometimes sedate, sometimes really well put together and sometimes in dire need of winding up.

Once again produced by Ethan Johns (of Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams fame), the album is notable for having brought bassist Jennifer Condos and guitarist/steel player Eric Heywood, from Ray’s touring band, into the studio.

But while there is undoubtedly plenty to savour, as well as signs of growing confidence in some of the musical arrangements, Gossip In The Grain is a hard album to really keep raving about.

Lamontagne certainly underlines his reputation for crafting heartfelt, honest songs that flit between optimism and despair… but his mood swings are a little too prone to switching to the listener too.

Hence, album opener You Are The Best Thing, with its lively back-beat and rousing horn section – not to mention Van Morrison tendencies – is a bright starting point, and a song for all the romantics out there.

And two songs later, Sarah, benefits from a beautiful combination of strings (subtly employed) and mandolin that sit comfortably, even soothingly, alongside Lamontagne’s gruff vocals.

In between, however, is the earnest, but somehow cumbersome Let It Be Me, which interrupts the momentum somewhat. The same can be said of I Still Care For You and Winter Birds, which following on from each other usher the album into one of its slumbers.

Fortunately, Lamontagne picks up the energy for the Morricone-inspired Meg White – a song that opens with a spaghetti western style whistle, before dropping the sort of foot-stomping back-beat The White Stripes might like to call their own. It’s a welcome wake-up song, augmented by some vocal layering and its emphatic guitar riffs.

The rustic Hey Me, Hey Mama wreaks of Deep South America and recalls – pleasantly – the type of music made so memorable by the Soggy Bottom Boys (of O Brother, Where Art Thou? game), while Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame) is the pluckiest record on the long-player… a rhythm and blues performer that finds Lamontage opening up and having some fun (complete with endearing harmonica).

Alas, he can’t quite resist returning to more sombre territory with the album closers A Falling Through and the title track, which – though at times beautiful (especially Gossip In The Grain), feel like missed opportunies to end the album on a similarly feel-good note.

Not that Lamontagne’s fans will probably mind… but Gossip In The Grain just needed to have a little more courage in truly “opening up” Ray’s sound.

Download picks: You Are The Best Thing, Sarah, Hey Me, Hey Mama, Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame)

Track listing:

  1. You Are The Best Thing
  2. Let It Be Me
  3. Sarah
  4. I Still Care For You
  5. Winter Birds
  6. Meg White
  7. Hey Me, Hey Mama
  8. Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame)
  9. A Falling Through
  10. Gossip In The Grain