Uncle Zeke's Top 20 o' 2014: #19- RAY LAMONTAGNE: "Supernova"

19- RAY LAMONTAGNE: "Supernova"

Number 19 of 2014 goes to an artist that I, personally, had hoped would sit atop my list of favorite albums of the year. As it stands (obviously not #1), it actually ended up being one of the biggest disappointments for me. It wasn't disappointing in the fact that it wasn't a good album, but that it wasn't better.

There were albums released by artists (in 2014)... that in decades past could do no wrong... that didn't even crack the top 20. Hi, Sarah McLachlan... how ya' doin'? 

It's funny I bring up Sarah... and let me continue that thought. When I first REALLY discovered Sarah McLachlan, way back in 1994, I was absolutely blown away by the artistic vision of the burgeoning songwriter. While I wasn't blown away by all of "Fumbling Towards Ecstacy", the depth of each song...and especially the ones that deeply connected with me...were far beyond anything else to cross my path that year...or several years prior. When she released "The Freedom Sessions" a year later, a release that was somewhere between an e.p. and a full length album...and a bold reinterpretation of many of the songs from "Fumbling"...I was very optimistic that what would then follow would be some of Sarah's most innovative work yet. What DID follow was "Surfacing", an album that I now love, but at the time was so let down that I sold my CD for gas money only days after getting it. 

The same was the case for LaMontagne's "Supernova".

I first discovered the music of Ray LaMontagne when the BMG CD club sent me a copy of the disc, upon my failure to reply to them that I had no desire to receive their selection of the month. Because I had already been billed for it, I decided to keep it, rather than returning it. I was pleased to see that Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) appeared on the album. I was optimistic that I had found the "next best thing". Truth be told, I gave it a listen and wasn't all that smitten by what I heard. Musically, it was decent, but LaMontagne's scratchy vocals didn't sit well with me. Way back when, I was ALL about the vocals and production. It didn't occur to me until several years later that the voice...complete with its many imperfections...can still be one of the most honest and sincere instruments there is. 

Fast forward to 2010, when I first heard material from his fourth album, "God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise". I was moved by soulful nature of the music, and connected with his honest, sincere delivery of the material. It was then that I began working back, collecting his earlier recordings. To this day, I still enjoy his second album (Til the Sun Turns Black) the most, followed by his third release, "Gossip in the Grain". Even "God Willin'" is a most satisfying listen, while venturing a little further from the moody, more acoustic music of his earlier work. 

Fast forward to 2014 and news that a new Ray LaMontagne album is set for release. Not just that, but it is being produced by Dan Auerbach of  The Black Keys. It is safe to say that, in most cases, I LOVE anything that Dan produces. It is also safe to say that my expectations were set very high for this album. Not only was one of my favorite (newer) artists releasing an album, but with one of my favorite producers sitting behind the desk. 

As it stands, I respect the album. I appreciate the album. I recognize the album as the art of Ray LaMontagne. I just don't really connect with the album. That's not saying that I won't later. It took a while for Sarah's "Surfacing" to grow on me... it may take this one some time. In many cases, it's the albums that are "slow burners" that end up becoming my favorites. 

While I usually endorse and encourage change, this is one of the rare instances where I would have been completely content seeing Ray release more of the music that he had done under the supervision of Ethan Johns. Meanwhile, 18 years after the release of "Surfacing", Sarah McLachlan is still plodding through the same murky creative waters. Her life changes... the words change...the music stays the same.....and frankly, it's a lullaby that just puts me to sleep. While I would rather sleep to the soft strains of LaMontagne's "Be Here Now", I'll take change over complacency. 

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