Ray Lamontagne & The Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

A Cameo By Dan Wade

On his fourth album, singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne recruited his trusty touring band, The Pariah Dogs and self-produced this seasoned and highly enjoyable collection of songs. Familiar themes – cheating lovers, broken hearts, youthful ambition and wistful longing for former flames are all well-represented here.

The level of intimacy in LaMontagne’s voice – and what a voice it is – is really intense. He carries the songs with a cigarettey rasp that alternately growls as a snarl on “Repo Man,” a sneering jab at a cheating ex, and haunts as a whispery croon “New York City’s Killing Me,” a wintery ode to misery and loneliness in NYC.

Behind LaMontagne are his trusty Pariah Dogs, who wisely create atmospheric, glassy pedal-steel guitar swells, shimmery acoustic and a bass and drum rhythm section that plays comfortably behind the beat, perfectly complimenting LaMontagne’s voice on the sleepy morning hymn of a title track.

The highlight of the album is perhaps the back-to-back breakup song set of “Are We Really Through” and “This Love Is Over.” On the former, LaMontagne’s voice soars above a sparse foundation of a delicately fingerpicked and sophisticated folk guitar chord progression, with a ghost-like pedal steel guitar floating in the background. With a less convincing singer, lyrics like “Is that sun / ever gonna break / break on through the clouds / shine down in all it’s glory” might come off sounding a little generic and uninspirted, but LaMontagne could probably sing the alphabet and it would sound completely fresh and new.

The latter track, “This Love Is Over,” is my obvious standout song of the CD. LaMontagne’s voice has never sounded better, and the way he sings the simple yet effective chorus line (which is essentially the title, repeated) suits the song’s aching sense of longing, regret and sadness perfectly.

There are some pretty standard run-of-the-mill folk songs here, such as “Old Before Your Time,” “For the Summer,” and “Beg, Steal or Borrow” with familiar melodies that might be at home on a Bright Eyes record. These songs, like their tried-and-true subject matter are solid, sturdy album tracks that don’t draw me in as effectively as some of the standouts, but they have some amazing musical moments, such as the down-and-dirty backwoods back porch guitar solo on “For The Summer.”

They are well worth the wait to get to the epic, strummy ballad “Like Rock ‘n Roll & Radio,” the record’s penultimate song that uses the formerly prosperous relationship between rock music and popular radio as a metaphor for a formerly happy relationship between two lovers. Very clever there, Ray.

Overall, I would say that this is a really good record that mixes standard singer-songwriter fare with some truly transcendent, instantly classic songs and gets elevated by LaMontagne’s world-weary-troubador vocals and the Pariah Dogs’ tasteful, seasoned instrumentation. This album accomplishes the rare feat of tapping into your feelings and complimenting whatever mood you might be in. I foresee it becoming the musical equivalent of a homemade quilt – being played on an old set of headphones, indoors, on a snowy winter day and comforting the listener with its folky, live-band warmth.

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