After regularly releasing albums every two years since 2004, the 4 year wait between rugged rocker Ray LaMontagne‘s fourth (God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise) and fifth (Supernova) studio albums was EXCRUCIATING. Thankfully, however, with the recent announcement of Ouroboros, his sixth studio album, due March 4th on RCA Records (in the U.S.) and Columbia Records in the UK—Ray LaMontagne appears to be back on that 2 year album release cycle (at least for now). Listen to first single, “Hey No Pressure” BELOW. I love the sound—Ray’s trademark gritty and gravelly snarl is grittier and more gravelly than ever. Gone is the acoustic guitar Ray had become so reliant on—replaced with dusty and distorted guitar riffs and some beautifully haunting harmonies with an unknown female singer.
The new album was written by LaMontagne and produced by Ray alongside Jim James of My Morning Jacket, whom together help take the bearded guitar-wonder’s sound in yet another unexpected musical direction. Ray’s last record; the 60s-70s drenched Supernova was produced by The Black Keys‘ Dan Auerbach (Lana Del Rey, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals) sort of got purists in a tizzy, with fans lamenting about how much they missed his old sound—a sound, keep in mind, that Ray held onto (more or less) for four consecutive albums. Sure, there each album differed slightly sonically—Till The Sun Turns Black, for instance, was darker and moodier than Trouble, Ray’s iconic debut. Still, for the most part, at least in the minds (and ears) of his fans Ray had his distinct and consistent folky-rock vibe down pat and everything was copacetic.
Part of this consistency, I’m SURE had to do with the fact that Ray used the same producer for his first three albums—Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Laura Marling, Paolo Nutini). While he did part ways with Johns for God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise—opting to produce it entirely by himself and form a band (The Pariah Dogs)—sonically, the album didn’t stray too far outside the musical comfort zone set out by its predecessors, therefore keeping the fan fervor mostly positive. When Supernova was released however, the reaction amongst hardcore fans was mixed.
I’ll be honest, Supernova was not my favorite album of his. Hey—I consider myself a “Ray LaMontagne purist” too, but I also respect an artist’s artistry. Ultimately, whether we the fans like it or not, an album belongs to the artist and not the fans. The artist has to enjoy his craft—if he doesn’t, said artist will likely get bored and retire. Let’s be honest—Ray probably isn’t hurting for money. His last three albums EACH landed in the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 and his numerous tours go on seemingly forever and sell out in major markets. He’s clearly making music for himself right now and I completely respect that. I for one loved the psychedelic first single off Supernova, and while the album as a whole didn’t rock me to my emotional core like some of his earlier releases, I respect that he wanted to try something different. In a post card sent to a select group of fans, Ray explained the new record:
“Ouroboros is an album musically unlike any I have recorded previously. It did not make itself known to me in sections, sessions, or moments carved out of the clutter of every day life. It presented itself as the simple question: ‘Will you follow me?’ Of course I couldn’t say no. I had to follow. What else could I do? I had nothing with which to record the journey that was taken. The album is merely an attempt to recreate, from memory, the landscapes, the colors, the sights and sounds that were experienced. I only thank God for the vividness of those experiences, and for the ease of their recollection.”
Ray LaMontagne can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. It’s always been about the voice for me, and that’s somethings that keeps getting better. It’s also always been about the live experience. Sure, with every subsequent album Ray puts out, the likelihood of hearing ALL of your favorites shrinks considerably—but you’re still seeing Ray LaMontagne live and that’s worth the price of a ticket alone.
Fans who pre-order the new album Ouroboros on Amazon get an exclusive pre-sale code and access to early tickets for Ray’s upcoming U.S. tour. Pre-sale tickets are on sale from February 3rd through March 3rd, with tickets going on sale to the general public starting on March 4th. The tour kicks off June 10th in Cincinnati and concludes September 24th in Dallas, Texas. For a full list of dates and for more information, check out www.RayLaMontagne.com.