Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs: God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise

RIYL: James Morrison, Ryan Adams, Iron & Wine

51ENPcsTtLL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]When Ray LaMontagne burst onto the scene with Trouble in 2004, it was easy to assume that the album’s slight glossy sheen was the work of producer Ethan Johns, and look forward to a time when LaMontagne had enough clout to put together a collection with the sort of grit that would support and highlight the soulful folk of his unapologetically retro songwriting. Three albums later, LaMontagne has stepped out on his own — but the result, the teasingly down-home titled God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise, is the most mannered and frictionless of his young career.

It didn’t have to be this way. LaMontagne convened a band, christened the Pariah Dogs, for the sessions, helmed by LaMontagne from the comfort of his own studio, and recorded everything live; frustratingly, it’s the songs themselves that lack the essential heat of his primary influences. Where LaMontagne evoked the bucolic soul of Van Morrison’s early ’70s recordings on his debut, he’s steadily retreated to a Laurel Canyon somnolence over time, and God Willin’ finds him mostly willing to simply lay back, unspool his tuneful rasp, and let the pedal steels do all the work.

The lone exception is the opening track, “Repo Man,” which hints at the sort of back porch funk LaMontagne has always seemed to have in him. But from the second track, the lovely “New York City’s Killin’ Me,” through the harmonica-laced closing track, “Devil’s in the Jukebox,” the rest of God Willin’ is curiously flat; it ambles sheepishly, hands in pockets, from plaintive ballad to lukewarm mid-tempo number and back again.

The end result is an album that certainly isn’t bad, but it’s undeniably frustrating. At his best, LaMontagne has always suggested the modern fruition of the seeds sown by rock’s earliest soul explorers; here, he sounds like nothing so much as a pleasant afternoon nap. And like a nap, listening to God Willin’ has its pleasures, but you’re liable to come out of it feeling groggy and a little ashamed that you weren’t doing something more productive with your time. Hopefully, LaMontagne will catch a twinge of that guilt too. (RCA 2010)

Ray LaMontagne MySpace page


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