It's ironic that the first Ray LaMontagne
album to list a band's name on the cover is also his first solo flight. God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise
is his fourth full-length, but it is the first without producer Ethan Johns
helmed the session at his home studio and it is mostly a loose, laid-back affair with a couple of exceptions. The Pariah Dogs
-- bassist Jennifer Condos
, guitarists Eric Heywood
and Greg Leisz
, and drummer Jay Bellerose
-- have recorded and/or toured with him previously. The opener, "Repo Man," is the album's wild card. Introduced by a popping upright bassline, it's a gritty funk number that's totally out of place with the rest of what's here. Bellerose
plays tight breaks, the guitars roil and coil, and LaMontagne'
s protagonist indicts a former lover, spitting out lyrics in a grainy, swaggering growl. The album changes direction abruptly on "New York Is Killing Me." It's a sad country song whose title reveals a longing for somewhere else as Leisz
's pedal steel guitar twins with LaMontagne
's world-weary voice. The title track is a love letter from a cattle driver to his beloved back at home. Bellerose
's deeply tuned snare and tom-toms are balanced by two
pedal steels underscoring the otherworldly loneliness in the grain of LaMontagne'
s voice. "Beg Steal or Borrow" is a midtempo shuffle that exhorts a younger man to just go
; to fulfill his dreams at any cost. Two broken love songs -- "Are We Really Through" and "This Love Is Over" -- seem to echo the sentiments in "Repo Man," albeit far more gently. Both are skeletal and moody; the latter touches on the soul balladry LaMontagne
's known for, but with a jazzy touch in the guitars. It's the best cut here. "Old Before Your Time" is the brother to "Beg Steal or Borrow": it reveals the consequences -- perhaps to the man in the mirror -- if the admonitions in the previous tune are not adhered to. "For the Summer" feels like loosely composed filler. The overly long "Like Rock and Roll Radio" stretches a metaphor to its breaking point and a tired beyond. "Devil's in the Jukebox," an uptempo country stomper adorned with reverbed snare, kick drum, LaMontagne'
s wailing harmonica, and Leisz'
s resonator slide guitar and mandola, redeems the album somewhat at its close. God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise
is a mixed bag. There's fine stuff here to be sure, but as a whole, it feels unbalanced; too much of one sound makes it drag a bit. Given that this is his debut as a producer, it's not unexpected; but after his previous trio of fine recordings, this one feels anticlimactic.