By Ray LaMontagne
Selling over half a million copies of his debut album 'Trouble' in the UK, Ray LaMontagne seemingly came from nowhere to receive large amounts of critical acclaim and masses of national radio airplay. He returns with his second album, 'Till The Sun Turns Black', which sees him joining forces with alt-country über-producer Ethan Johns in a bid to cement his position among the current crop of singer-songwriters.
The album offers elements of his varying influences; from the standard acoustic guitar template to broadening strains of four-bar blues to traditional soul & gospel. Johns' cut-class recordings allow the songs to remain 'live' throughout and carry a real instant charm. Aided by this, LaMontagne returns the favour by bringing the songs to life with stark performances, often brought to life by swirls of string, providing a sharp contrast with his gruff and often winsome tones.
Despite 'Barfly' and 'Three More Days' breaking the mould somewhat from the rest of the musical template, the rare efforts to increase the tempo do not add greatly to the overall tone. Less is most definitely more when it comes to the album's highlights.
The album is by far at its most affecting when he takes the traditional singer-songwriter's road most travelled. On Nick Drake-esque opener 'Be Here Now', his smoky voice is wonderfully offset by a lifting string section and the sombre 'Lessons Learned' is another inspired moment in this vein.
Despite seeking to broaden his stylistic palette, this collection of songs proves that by adding his own unique talents to the age-old troubadour concept, Lamontagne truly has something unique to offer and talent to burn.