With a voice that recalls a huskier, sandpapery version of Van Morrison and Tim Buckley, Ray LaMontagne joins such artists as Iron & Wine in creating folk songs that are alternately lush and intimately earthy. The songwriter was born in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1973; his parents split up shortly after his birth, and his mother began a pattern of moving her six children to any locale that could offer her employment and housing. As a result, LaMontagne grew up as the perennial new kid in school (when he went to school at all). He did graduate high school, however, and found himself working in a shoe factory in Maine when he heard Stephen Stills’ “Tree Top Flyer” on the radio. The song amounted to an epiphany for LaMontagne, who made up his mind on the spot to become a singer and musician.
By the summer of 1999, he had put together a ten-song demo tape that soon found its way into the hands of Jamie Ceretta at Chrysalis. The publishing house signed the young songwriter and teamed him with producer Ethan Johns, resulting in LaMontagne’s debut album, Trouble. The record was picked up by RCA and released in the fall of 2004, impressing critics with such songs as the title tune, “Trouble,” and the cinematic style of pieces like “Narrow Escape.” A follow-up album for the RCA label, Til the Sun Turns Black, appeared in 2006 and widened LaMontagne’s palette by incorporating horns and strings. He also placed songs in multiple American television shows, including ER, Bones, and One Tree Hill. Gossip in the Grain followed in 2008, also with Johns in the production chair. LaMontagne’s biggest commercial success to that point, it debuted at number three on the American charts and featured several songs later heard on television shows.
In 2012, LaMontagne returned with his fourth studio album, God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise. His first album without producer Ethan Johns, the session was produced by LaMontagne at his home studio and was the first with a billing for his backing band the Pariah Dogs, which included bassist Jennifer Condos, guitarist Eric Heywood, and drummer Jay Bellerose. It peaked at number three on the American album charts, and earned LaMontagne his first Grammy win, for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Produced and recorded by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, LaMontagne’s fifth LP, Supernova, was released in the spring of 2014. The album fared well critically and reached number one on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart and number three on the Billboard Top 200. In May of 2015, one of LaMontagne’s early songs, “Please,” was given a major boost when it was covered by Sawyer Fredericks, the Season 8 winner of NBC’s The Voice. Fredericks’ version of “Please” became a hit, reaching number two on the iTunes singles chart. Teasing a change of direction in a note to a group of fans, LaMontagne worked with My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James on his next outing, Ouroboros. Designed for full-album play and immersed in blues guitar and vintage instrument-rich psychedelia, it arrived in March of 2016. March, 2018 saw the release of the single “Such a Simple Thing” in anticipation of the arrival of his seventh studio long-player, Part of the Light, which was issued later that May. ~ Steve Leggett