Album Reviews: Till the Sun Turns Black by Ray LaMontagneBushy-bearded troubadour Ray LaMontagne shouldn't lose any fans with Till the Sun Turns Black, his follow-up to 2004's Trouble. He strikes a careful balance between casting a broader net and reworking/refining the same sort of universally appealing fare that he and producer Ethan Johns tapped into on his debut. If there is an artist tailor-made for the midnight hour of a road trip, or for the 35-year-old inside all of us, LaMontagne could very well be it.
Like a rougher-around-the-edges Amos Lee or Ben Harper, LaMontagne sings songs that mix world-weariness with determined longing. "See, I been to Hell and back so many times, I must admit you kind of bore me," he sings on "Empty," one of the album's best tracks. Johns, as also evidenced by his work as a studio shepherd for Ryan Adams, is an expert at drawing maximum effect from this sort of hushed darkness and underplayed melancholy. There's a propulsiveness and edge to "Empty" that is lacking on most of the rest of Till the Sun Turns Black, even if the album is seldom anything less than pleasant-sounding.
Unfortunately, the air of dark mystery is sometimes subverted by LaMontagne's other musical alter egos. The first of these Mr. Hydes turns up on "Three More Days," the sort of squinty, mushy-mouthed, Joe Cocker variety of white boy soul that Taylor Hicks has tapped into frequently, including when he covered LaMontagne's very own "Trouble." "Three More Days," of course, was pegged as the lead single. Fortunately, it doesn't sound like much else on the album. The more damaging and recurring persona is the soft-voiced singer who sings sweet nothings -- like the sappy, string-drenched "Can I Stay" -- and is sometimes overwhelmed by crowded arrangements, like the over-orchestrated title track.
"Empty" is hardly the lone highlight, though. LaMontagne is an evocative guitarist, and sets an arresting mood with the delicate opener, "Be Here Now," which should become a set list staple. On "Gone Away From Me," he weaves a heartbroken storyline into a subtle but stately song that otherwise sounds like it could be played at weddings. "Lesson Learned" is another effective example of how LaMontagne and Johns use an intimate atmosphere to make the loneliest songs seem somehow simultaneously romantic or even seductive. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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