Ray LaMontagne - Gossip In The Grain

Ray LaMontagne's latest starts with a blast of soulful horns and a sultry rhythm, but that's by no means an indicator of what follows.
Gossip In The Grain brings Ray and his fans back to very familiar territory. Whatever musical accompaniment he chooses, his voice is always the nucleus around which the rest of the elements revolve. Not even the joyous Motown feel of the first track, "You Are The Best Thing," can overshadow the fact that if his voice wasn't there to set it apart, it would just be another thawed and microwaved soul groove.

The title track is a better representation of the album - "Gossip In The Grain" is full of Ray's signature sonic scarcity, with his voice always leading the way, accented by his acoustic guitar and a hint of backing vocals here, a little synth outro there. The disc's most energetic moment comes during the breathy "Meg White," which alternates between Meg-like drum blasts and swirling Sgt. Pepper-style dreaminess, sounding quite unlike any other track from his catalog. The tune also lends some needed variety to the proceedings, as the first 5 tracks are pretty much what you'd expect from LaMontagne - lovelorn lyrics shot through with soul ("You Are The Best Thing" and "Let It Be Me") and sit-down songs that call for a smoky late night ("Winter Birds"). "Hey Me, Hey Mama" is also a slight departure for him, farther down the road of pure blues and jazz than we've heard him go in the past, incorporating instruments like clarinet and trumpet to create a party atmosphere. The truly interesting moments are somewhat scarce, though, as the closing tracks "A Falling Through" and "Gossip In The Grain" return the listener to the expected mellow mood.

After the first half of this disc, I was ready to call it the disappointment of the year. Thankfully, Ray's trademark diversity and creativity emerged for the home stretch in tracks like "Meg White," "Hey Me, Hey Mama," and the romping "Henry Nearly Killed Me." While some of Gossip In The Grain sounds like the wind whispering through wheat, there are enough colorful occurrences among the fields to make it worth a stop and a few snapshots.

--Bryan Rodgers