For the most part Ray LaMontagne occupies a well-respected corner of the commercial music world. His albums have won him Grammy nominations and critical acclaim on more than one occasion, and yet, there is a certain subdued quietude surrounding his fame. Perhaps this is because he is singer-songwriter of the timeless variety. A “nu-folk” minstrel, LaMontagne has spent the last decade and a half of his career grafting his way through small town shows, peddling soulful acoustic sonnets to ever increasing crowds. It’s this timelessness that has amassed him a congregation of fans, equally moved by the confessional nature of his songwriting.
Meanwhile, his progression as an artist shows no sign of slowing. Part Of The Light is his seventh album, coming two years after 2016’s Ouroboros. Whilst other artists would stumble at such a hurdle, LaMontagne traverses this musical milestone with relative ease. The album is gentle, refined and surprising. He refuses to hack out the old folk tropes, preferring instead to play with expectations, swaying from breathy blues vocals to a roaring rock-and-roll chorus in the second single release, ‘Paper Man’.
As a stand-alone track, ‘Paper Man’ is, in many ways, a microcosm of the new album as a whole, in which LeMontagne weaves together, song by song, an eclectic cabaret of genres and tones. ‘Let’s Make It Last’, a song which holds it’s own as a softly spoken tribute to a lover on their way out the door, is followed by the crashing drums and electric guitar fills of ‘As Black As Blood Is Blue’, LaMontagne’s voice now reduced to a gruff growl. There is seemingly no rhyme or reason to the album’s ordering and its audible cartography will be baffling for many. Yet this album is held together by a single thread – LaMontagne’s voice, which, deeply textured and earthy, reverberates through the album, carrying the emotional force of every song in its wake. It’s the voice of a storyteller, a lyrical troubadour.
The stand-out song from the album is, without a doubt, the title track. It’s a choral ballad that seamlessly weaves tender lyricism, the sort for which LaMontagne is so well known, with a stripped-back acoustic melody that rises and soars in tandem with his voice. It’s a vulnerable track, seemingly eons away from the husky folk tunes that peppered his first few albums. It’s also where the poetic merit of his writing is most visible and poignant. It’s no secret that moments of political unrest and civil protest breed a sort of bittersweet, soulful activism in the form of prolific song-writing, especially within folk circles. In many ways ‘Part Of The Light’, as a track, seems to embody the contemporary regeneration of this trend and the influence of the penmanship of Lennon and Dylan shines starkly throughout the track. LaMontagne’s delicate way with words echoes George Harrison’s ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, from his 1970 album All Things Must Pass. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” LaMontagne sings, a lyrical shaking of the head, in embarrassment and horror it seems, at the world that surrounds him.