Release Date: Apr 29, 2014
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
With his top 5 2004 debut, Trouble, Ray Lamontagne enjoyed the kind of success that doesn't often greet shy purveyors of melancholy Americana. However, for this fifth album – produced by knob-twiddler du jour, the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach – beardy sounds have surprisingly been replaced by psychedelic pop. Songs indebted to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the Byrds and the Turtles audibly sport bowl cuts and Paisley shirts.
It seems like Ray LaMontagne is experimenting on his fifth studio record. Not in the way that’s often described with such neutral designations as “maturing” or “emotional growth.” Rather, Supernova sounds like a foray into the exploratory sonic terrains created by those who simply can. After four albums of rustic folksiness and unadulterated acoustica, LaMontagne traveled to Nashville to work with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on the recording and production of Supernova.
You probably know what you’re getting from Ray LaMontagne by now. After 10 years, he’s carved a reliable name for himself in delivering serious, emotive, bluesy folk-rock, all shot through with that startling voice. And while his music has often tugged at the heartstrings, it’s never particularly wavered from that template laid down on his debut album, Trouble.
Ray LaMontagne is arguably part of the current wave of talented, root-rock artists who are thriving in a commercial atmosphere where many fans are seeking a respite from digitized percussion, Auto-tuned voices, and cold synth atmospheres. LaMontagne released his first major label record in 2004 and had success: an appearance on the rootsy launching pad Austin City Limits and 500,000 in record sales. Releases followed every two years until 2010.
Over four previous albums, singer and songwriter Ray LaMontagne has presented as many different musical portraits of himself. What united those records was the signature world-weariness in his writing and singing -- even in the seeming celebratory roots rock on 2009's God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise. While Supernova, helmed by producer Dan Auerbach, presents yet another aspect of the songwriter's persona, that earthly weightiness all but vanishes.
With his impeccably weathered tenor croon and mastery of Seventies singer-songwriterisms, Ray LaMontagne can often seem in danger of disappearing into his beard. So it's a blessing that he connected with producer Dan Auerbach for his fifth album. Predictably, Auerbach helps the singer pull bright colors from the Sixties' crayon box; less predictably, he makes it seem a perfectly logical progression of LaMontagne's 10-plus years of cozy vibes.
Ray LaMontagne spends most of his latest album California dreamin’. One song finds him driving aimlessly down the Pacific Coast Highway in search of a respite. Another sees him rolling past Beverly Hills with a rough gang from East Los Angeles. A third has him staring at a drive-in movie screen in the Midwest, pining for the coolest rebels of Hollywood.
On the strength of the hit “Beg Steal Or Borrow,” Ray LaMontagne’s fourth record, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise, was a commercial success and eventual Grammy winner, though critics (somewhat unfairly) dismissed the album as uneven, unfocused, and unadventurous. In the four years since, LaMontagne has taken these appraisals to heart—the new Supernova is a surprisingly bold, enterprising follow-up from an artist who could have easily ridden out the rest of his career on adult-alternative autopilot. Produced by Dan Auerbach, the record mostly sets aside the neo-Bob Seger roots-rock of God Willin’ and undertakes an expansive survey of the psychedelic-tinged ’60s music scene.