From Shadows of His Soul,
Ray LaMontagne Cries for
By GREG BEAUBIEN June 14, 2018
“I’LL GET THROUGH THESE CHANGES, SOMEHOW,” Ray LaMontagne sings in “Such a Simple Thing,” the first single from his atmospheric, dreamlike new record, Part of the Light.
With an opening acoustic-guitar riff that recalls “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones, the song rings bittersweet chords of sadness and hope and sets a retro tone that reverberates throughout the album. “Tell me what your heart wants,” LaMontagne implores in falsetto voice. “It’s such a simple thing / My heart is like paper, yours is like a flame.”
Everything about Part of the Light evokes 1960s-’70s folk music and rock: its songs, its cover art of orange light beading against a dark background, its type fonts. Even the smell of the ink on the CD package and booklet conjures memories of freshly unwrapped LPs from the era.
Influences are openly celebrated. The opening track, “To the Sea,” a folk number with hints of Simon & Garfunkel and early, Syd Barrett-Pink Floyd, establishes the record’s theme of light and darkness. LaMontagne sings: “The clouds in the blue threw shadows on me and you.” The next song, “Paper Man,” evokes early music by The Who, beginning like a chant before rocking into its defiant chorus: “I won’t live like a paper man; I won’t step into line, all joined at the hand.”
The title track is a slow-tempo, psychedelic nursery rhyme, ethereal and floating, fusing intellect and emotion in its lyrics: “For every one resplendent in the wealth of kings, thousands upon thousands only suffering … I want to be part of the light.”
Illumination conquering darkness continues as a motif in “It’s Always Been You,” a poetic incantation over waves of melodic guitar lines: “Since the first star split the black, split the silence in two … It’s always been you.”
“Let’s Make It Last” is a dreamy whisper of a song about the fleeting nature of life and love. LaMontagne sings: “Stay, for a little while / Share a glass beside the fire,” as a major chord warbles into a lounge-worthy major seventh, saved from schmaltz by subtle instrumentation and genuine emotion.
At about the record’s halfway point, the tempo jumps on the rocker “As Black as Blood is Blue.” Over searing electric guitar, LaMontagne wails: “My heart … as black as blood is blue.” The song’s bridge approaches Black Sabbath-level heaviness. LaMontagne growls: “There’s nowhere to hide from the light of electric soul …” Another rocker, “No Answer Arrives,” thumps with a churning beat, reverb and feedback, as LaMontagne asks, “Where is the light that used to shine on me?”
The final track, “Goodbye Blue Sky,” has the same name as a song from Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, but sounds more like something from the band’s early record Meddle. The tune shimmers through darkness and light, providing a coda to the album’s recurring theme and the longing expressed in “Let’s Make It Last,” this time with the line: “Let me stay always beside you.” The song fades with electric guitar pealing into distances of space and time.
Part of the Light is LaMontagne’s seventh album, but the singer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist retains an aura of mystery about himself. He rarely grants interviews, and no photo of him appears on the record’s artwork.
Does the 1970s vibe of Part of the Light mean the record is derivative and unoriginal? No. The best artists soak up their influences, add their own genes to the mix and birth something new. And some music, like LaMontagne’s latest, takes a while to get into—but then rewards our patience by proving better and longer lasting than those flavors designed to instantly please.
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Greg Beaubien’s first novel is the critically acclaimed psychological thriller Shadows the Sizes of Cities.