...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

try to ignore all this blood on the floor / it's just this heart on my sleeve that's bleeding

Seeing Ray LaMontagne the first time was pretty dang incredible. It was early 2005 and I had just experienced the beginnings of my slow musical rebirth (snatched from the jaws of grownup musical apathy) through his groundshaking Trouble. I listened to it non-stop, feeling like something I had been missing out of music was slowly being diffused back into me. The rough-hewn beauty of the music, the incisive daggers in his lyrics, and most of all that unbelievable voice -- it all felt so raw and beautiful. I went to see him at the Fillmore in S.F., and as I wrote:

"This skinny guy comes walking out on stage, looking as uncomfortable as all get out. Big beard. Quiet voice. Hiding behind his guitar. I almost thought he was going to bolt.

But then he opens his mouth and begins to play.

He has this vulnerable, raspy, velvety, pure voice, and he absolutely pours his soul into his music . . . He feels each word and resonates with each chord.

[One] non-album track that I remember vividly from the show is "Can I Stay." He ended with this song. The venue went still, as if we were all transfixed in the moment, like you could almost feel the song hanging there above our heads. The spotlight shone on him, with the dust motes swirling in the heavy air. Absolutely beautiful song. I almost felt like I couldn't breathe.

On Monday night, I made the long drive up to Boulder for my fourth time seeing Ray. As jaded and cynical as I sometimes worry that my little critic's heart is becoming, wouldn't you know it - it happened again for me. The chills and the lump in the throat. Several times. The potency and passion still lives in Ray's music, and I was so glad to meet up with it again.

Dressed in the same plaid shirt/jeans/workboots ensemble of his Maine roots, Ray is really hitting an amazing stride and finding his subtle confidence as a performer. Instead of feeling bad for even looking at him on-stage, as I sometimes did that first night, Ray now exhales a quiet sense of purpose, a level of comfort as he melds with his backing band, and occasionally a wickedly funny streak. (One gal in the crowd yelled out that it was her birthday, 26. Ray first claimed not to remember that long ago in his life, and then he thought for a moment and pensively but determinedly said, "Now I said I didn't know what I was doing at 26, and that's not true. I was getting stoned, that's what I was doin'").

Ray's set skillfully wove his older material together with the bigger, brighter, shiner songs from his new album Gossip In The Grain. From the robust opening notes of "You Are The Best Thing," to the rocking blues of his ode to Meg White (while the stage was saturated in a very White-Stripesy crimson light), it was exciting to see this different side of him bloom. The country flavor ran deep, with pedal steel replacing the elegant strings on songs like "Shelter." Songs were laced through with high and lonesome whistles, and harmonicas unbounded like a runaway train.

I was nothing short of captivated, that he could still move those puzzle pieces around inside me. In a moment, Ray's music conjures up a hard-working world of faded wood cabins on the plain, country dresses, and going home at night exhausted to someone who really loves you. There may be some cornbread involved, maybe a passel of children. All that flashed through my mind (and I thought about various Steinbeck books I've read) in the way he sang the line from Empty about, "kiss me with that country mouth so plain." Overactive constructs, perhaps, but I loved it nonetheless in its simplicity, and in his absolute gut-wrenching conviction. He still doesn't sing songs as much as they are yanked out from his insides.

Since you all already know that I'm a sap sometimes, I'll totally cop to crying on his solo acoustic version of "Burn." I didn't expect that. It was very much like this video from a few days prior, and just bleeding raw and damn gorgeous:

A guy in the balcony said it best when he yelled out during one of the many quiet moments of guitar tuning between songs: "You sound good, Ray!"

And good it was. Very good.

You Are The Best Thing
Hold You In My Arms
Let It Be Me
I Still Care For You
(with Leona Naess)
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's A Shame)
Narrow Escape
Meg White
(solo acoustic)
Winter Birds (solo acoustic)
Hey Me, Hey Mama
You Can Bring Me Flowers

3 More Days
Gossip In The Grain
(with Leona Naess)

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At October 31, 2008 7:35 AM, Anonymous giuseppe said...

Told ya.

At October 31, 2008 8:13 AM, Blogger Pouncer said...

I saw him at Strathmore Hall in DC a couple of weeks ago, and was similarly transported. I am, in fact, listening to Till The Sun Turns Black right now, and luxuriating in the music. His voice makes me intensely happy, and his lyrics remind me of my Appalachian roots. An amazing artist.

At October 31, 2008 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GREAT fricking description of what his sound made you feel.
i appreciate reading it.

At October 31, 2008 8:44 AM, Blogger Carolina VK said...

I just love you blog. I got here because of Nich Hornby's commment and it's making me happy. One day, I'll have a blog like yours. Thanks so much for this last post.

At October 31, 2008 9:07 AM, Blogger Lebrescos said...

Great write-up! I came to this blog a Pearl Jam fan and was introduced to Ray's music here on this blog. Now Ray is right up there with Eddie Vedder in my opinion. I recently saw both of them in similar settings. Both with an acoustic guitar and a great voice. They were two of the greatest shows I have seen and they could not have been more different from each other.

And "Burn" is such a wonderful song.

At October 31, 2008 12:27 PM, Anonymous Linda T said...

Wow, what a wonderful write-up. I love your description of being rescued out of adult-onset musical apathy by artists such as Ray. I have had a similar experience myself with rediscovering the power of music to move and change and heal.

I loved the video for "Burn", and went the extra step and looked at the YouTube menu below and treated myself to "Winter Birds", my favorite song on the new album.

Thank you!

At October 31, 2008 12:37 PM, Anonymous Liz said...

I got goose bumps just reading your post!

At October 31, 2008 1:15 PM, Blogger Liz said...

Thanks for the review Heather. I had a friend who told me he cried at every Derek Truck's show and I never knew that feeling until I went to a Ray show. I saw him at e-town a couple of months ago, and every song was heart wrenching. Even reading your review about him was touching.

At November 01, 2008 5:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I listened to "Gossip In The Grain" driving back and forth in the car all day yesterday.

Let It Be Me~
"No matter where you turn
You ain't got no place to stand"

You know that he's been there and that he would just sit down and be with "it" with you. There's always a thread of child like innocence and hope that runs through those melancholic gifts of his.~deb

At November 01, 2008 6:18 PM, Anonymous Jamie said...

i am so glad to see jolene on that set list. (my favorite.)

i've got front row tickets!!! for the seattle show in a few days. i cannot wait to be blown away.

enjoying your blog always,

At November 03, 2008 9:40 PM, Blogger Patrick G said...

Heather, you are my idol in so many ways! I've been following your blog for a while, but this is my first post.
I saw Ray on the 1st here in San Diego at Spreckels Theater. Last I was there was for back to back nights seeing Eddie. The show was completely sublime. It was my first seeing him live, although I have been following his music for some time now. I was worried that he would stray form his previous acoustic work due to his new album being a little more "pop-ish" but he didn't let me down. In fact I had a much deeper appreciation for his new album after the night. The ease at which he creates the most beautiful tones is completely breath taking. A balance between breathing and raw rasp. But above everything else, his lyrics are what move me the most. The honesty, the innocence and the passion for the mystery of life.... Honestly, its a spiritual thing for me. I am able to see everything in my mind play out before me as he drops those bitter sweet tales. And it is so rare that you are able to witness such an event live. I am STILL killing myself over not getting a recorder to that show. If any of your readers get word of any bootlegs from this tour PLEASE let us know!

Please keep up the incredible work!



At November 04, 2008 7:57 AM, Blogger Matt said...

I saw Ray a few weeks ago and he was incredible. His band reminds me of a more subdued version of the Cardinals.

We were fortunate enough to meet Ray behind the venue after the show. As fantastic as that was I was kicking myself for not speaking with Ethan Johns and thanking him for all of the music he has brought into the world.

At November 06, 2008 12:43 PM, Blogger Uppity Disability said...

I find it really strange Ray cites Lewiston, ME as his hometown. We're about the same age, and yes, being a hip scenester doesnt mean i know everyone (tho i know Howie Day from college, he and I appearently went to the same DMB small show at my college)

But really, i know folks who know ray, but no clue his direct connection to lewiston. and he was kinda wierd when the community arts org wanted him to play a show here, but he totally still is incredible.

At November 12, 2008 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ray playing John Lennons Imagine the Day Obama won the White House. Amazing to be in the room.


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