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

Written by August 17th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs
God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise
RCA Records
Rating: ★★½☆☆

Since 2004, Ray LaMontagne, who might get unfairly pinned down as just another bearded folkie, has put out a string of resonant and emotional records, each with songs that range from the best of the folk/pop genre, to songs that skim influence from the finest 60s soul and R&B. God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise is a departure from that influence, and is a turn to a more traditional folk-rock record.

But something feels a bit off; perhaps it’s that LaMontagne took over the production reins from Ethan Johns who has so masterfully manned that post on each of LaMontagne’s previous releases. God Willin’, while a pretty record and certainly head and shoulders above so much of what has been released this year, it is nearly completely bereft of the emotion that we’ve come to expect from LaMontagne. Maybe he was too busy behind that control panel.

We can’t blame the Pariah Dogs for the record’s missteps. The accompaniment offered by his long-time back-up band (who have now taken on that name) stands out. Funny how giving a name to their contribution gives that work a face. It’s a graceful one, though: sweet slide and lap steel guitar and a subtle rhythm section. The Pariah Dogs are the best thing about God Willin’. That said, album opener “Repo Man” and other up-tempo numbers like “Bag Steel or Borrow” manage to capture a bit of what was so striking about the last three records. This material may be much better suited to a live environment where the songs can breathe and LaMontagne can let loose a bit. Still, other songs, with heartbreaking titles like “Are We Really Through” and “This Love is Over” never manage to connect on the same level as classics like “Be Here Now” (from Till the Sun Turns Black) and “Let it Be Me” (from Gossip in the Grain). In fact, they come across a bit like tired Sting solo tunes. Which is to say, LaMontagne could have done better.

  • Chris

    Lamontagne obviously doesnt care about critics…hes right. When do they ever last? Never. get a real job

  • listen

    Seriously? There’s no emotion in the heartrending are we strangers now? I’ll concede that looking at the albums as wholes, the lyrical content on his past records is of higher quality. Even with your assertion that most of these songs may be better suited to a live show. But no emotion? Preposterous, dude.

  • The Dude

    Mr Reviewer:

    You’re going to look back on this review and wish you never wrote it. How off can you be? Listen to Beg Steal Borrow and tell me there’s no emotion in that song. This is easily the year’s best.

  • guy

    maybe the lack of emotion is in the fact that he sounds so grown up. he has matured a great deal since till the suns turns back which is the crown. i think his lack of emotion is him being resolute. thanks so much lamontagne for singing my life.

  • erock

    bit of a surprising review for me, but i got a buddy who isn’t thrilled with the album either. i think it’s great…like most of the songs, the vibe. “completely bereft of the emotion we’ve come to expect” is just insane.

  • JR

    Mr. Stone,
    Did we listen to the same album? “Bereft of emotions”? I don’t know how you could have listened to the whole album and come up with that comment. There is just as much emotion on this album as on his last three albums. If anything this album is not as dark as his last three releases. There is sense of hope that is running through this songs than when compared to other songs. “Tired Sting solos”? Again, how did you come up with this? The way that Lamontagne’s voice melds with the music is something I haven’t heard on a lot of albums.
    Go back and listen to the album again. The album is music gold.

  • Jon Stone

    LaMontagne fans are so polite! Thanks for the comments, here guys. I’ll admit — maybe the “bereft of emotion” bit is hyperbole. I just didn’t immediately connect to this record the same way I have with all his other releases. You’ve almost convinced me to go back and listen. But maybe I’ll just put on Till the Sun Turns Black again, because that record pulls me in after like three notes.

  • The Dude

    Jon-

    Take another listent to God Willing and the creek don’t rise..

    The title track, Beg/Steal/Barrow, For the Summer, and Old before your time are some of the year’s best tunes.

    I must admit I was not a big Ray fan before this album. I liked Til the Sun Turns Black and Trouble to degree but some of the songs bored me on the album. I must say the only song on the new album that doesn’t do it for me is the opener…Ray should leave the funk off because he’s not that good at it. But most of this album is superb and I love the fact he went more Alt-Country with this one. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for Pedal Steal guitars…this Album is my new Jacksonville City Nights…another alt-country gem…

    This is Ray’s strongest album and it’s not even close imo.

  • Jordon S.

    This isn’t a bad review — it’s a bad reviewer. PERIOD.

    This album isn’t music — it’s a collection of masterpiece paintings transformed into sound. It’s art.

    Thank you, Ray.

  • Jason C

    I thought the emotion was understated, in a good way.
    “Beg Steal or Borrow” is my favorite, but hardly an “up-tempo” number? (What do you normally listen to, The Best of Funeral Dirges?)
    I gotta agree with my fellow responders, it’s like we listened to a different album.

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  • Morgan C

    I agree with the review. LaMontange is among my top few favorites, and this CD is disappointing at best. Songs from past records; Let It Be Me, A Falling Through, Hold You In My Arms, Can I Stay, Lesson Learned, Forever My Friend…these songs are full of poetic lyrics set to perfectly accompanying arrangements.

    Then on my first listen…I get, “Is that sun ever going to break?” Common…I listen to Ray because he writes stuff that I can’t write. But I can write about the sun breaking through the clouds. “Get so tired, staring at the wall”. Really?

    “When I was a younger man…looking for a pot of gold, everywhere I turned the doors were closed”. If I had a nickel for every song that I accidentally began with “when I was a young man” (which is the equivalent to, “I was walking down the street…”). There isn’t anything special about this, the way that “Well the truth it felt so heavy, like a hammer through the room, that I could choose another over her” is special.

    “On past the busted back of that old and rusted Cadillac that sinks into this field collecting rain”. I consider that a special lyric.

    But of course, music is art, and art is like beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    :)

  • http://musicman.co.nr Vik

    Ray is infinite times better than i could ever dream of being. My favorite album of his is trouble, but with this one, try listening to the vinyl mix on his website, and buy the actual vinyl record. Its a warmer very emotional sound, alot like his classic stuff, which is to say it sounds like music that transcends time and space, like it just existed forever. For me, he’s up there with Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Joe Cocker, The Faces, James Brown, and all those guys. I know what you mean about the cd version, but try the vinyl mix before you give up on it. It still is a great record.

  • trish

    u are out of your mind , this album shimmers ..it is so rich in emotion ; it staggers ..

  • The Dude

    Morgan C can write songs too!!! Very Nice…

  • Mike

    It would be interesting if someone could tell me if the cd version was compressed at all?
    I feel the same way about this album it is missing something.

    If it is compressed to make a hotter cd that would be the reason.

  • http://archercredit.net Jack Murrah

    Ray’s newest will feel like more of the same until the third or fourth time you listen to it, and really get into the lyrics. Take it on a road trip and you’ll give him the credit the new album deserves.

    I’m convinced Ray cannot write a bad song.

  • Fred

    A statue has never been made of a critic. If you feel like you can make better music, pick up an instrument and record an album.

  • Peter

    I would like to ask if the person that wrote this article creates songs…?

    The reason I ask this is because if you do you would not have experienced this record the way in which you did.

    It’s a beautiful record of deep emotion, to say that ‘This Love Is Over’ lacks emotion I think is to say that the person listening to it perhaps lacks the life experience to understand the emotion within the song.

    I think the record is one of Ray’s finest… actually it is.

    So if anyone reads this review and is put off from buying this album, don’t listen to a word of it.

    Listen to me and everyone else that hears the truth of what the album is.

    Trust me I’m a musical genius and know what I’m talking about.

    Thank you

    Peace and love

  • http://slidingdown.com Jacque

    To a handful of the commenters,

    U MAD BRO? LOL WHY U MAD? :D

    Haha, trolling aside, any attacks on the writer of this post are wholly unwarranted. I understand disagreements between fans but this should really be about having a constructive conversation and not complaining about how one reviewer didn’t write a review that agreed with everyone.

    I’m sure if Ray LaMontagne saw this review, he’d look at the criticism carefully and think about whether or not he agrees with it. Any musician worth their salt will do that, and I know Ray is no exception.

    Thanks to all of the truly constructive comments; they’ve really been a pleasure to read. I’m not a huge Ray fan but I’m a bit familiar with his work. It’s those comments that will allow us all to be better listeners. :) Now I know I’ve got some musical homework to do when I next put on this record.

    ~Jacque

  • Jess

    I agree with the reviewer in some respects. I love Ray, he is without a doubt my most favorite singer/song writer of all time. I live in CT and recently went all the way to Memphis to see him in concert b/c he will not be up my way for a long time. He was amazing, and if it’s actually possible, he sounds even better live than on his CDs. So, I don’t want to sound like I am discrediting him. With that said, I had to listen to this album a couple times before I began to appreciate it. I love this album, but in a different way than the others. It is still much better quality than anything else coming out right now, but his other albums were love at first listen and all hold a very special place in my heart. I don’t feel the lyrics from his new stuff are as poetic and powerful as in the past. I mean the kind that really touch your heart and soul and bring tears to your eyes. Just so beautifully written and expressed… you know that he felt every single one of those lyrics deep down inside of himself and just put it to paper. It is truly a gift to hear him singing his very best work.

    So, I think the main problem with the album and the songs and anything they may be lacking is the following: (this is an exerpt from an interview with Ray regarding God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise)

    “I don’t try to be particularly literate in songs. I mean songs are something else. They just have to unfold the way they want to. I just try to let them happen. I don’t really think about it.
    Although this time around I approached things very differently. I tried to be much more disciplined about the writing. I mean I always have melodies stacked up and stored away, but as far as writing, it happens over a year or a year and a half. And this time I sat down around the middle of February and I just began to punch in every day. As soon as I woke up I’d make some coffee and I’d go into the room and I wouldn’t leave the room until, sometimes, 10:30 at night and I’ve never ever done that before and it was horrible, it was excruciating and some days I was in this room, every fucking day for just months, all day. And some days I was just wanting to kill myself because nothing was happening. I was making no progress whatsoever. I’d been in there for twelve or fourteen hours and nothing was happening… I mean maybe a little bit of a bridge, maybe a melody for this or a little piece of that. It was really difficult but I was really determined to do it. To try and make it work. First, because I had set time limits for myself. I had set a record start day. So anyway, that’s how the songs came together, I made myself do it.”

    I hope that for his next album, Ray does what comes naturally and writes songs as they come into his heart and not beat them out of his brain. I’d be happy to wait 5 years for that album; because good music lasts a lifetime and I have all of his other amazingly beautiful music to hold me over until then!

  • Dale

    By far the best folk record of 2010! Jon, you must be stoned!!

  • Ray

    Now HERE is a review:

    Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dog’s new album, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise, makes me believe in magic again—the kind where I’m 5 years old and summer isn’t plagued by work or worry.

    With this album playing in the background, it doesn’t matter that I’m 22 and staring at the last rays of summer. LaMontagne’s voice is keeping me tied to an alternate gravity that will undoubtedly end in fiery destruction if he ever stops singing.

    The husky yet undeniably pure timbre that has become LaMontagne’s trademark is the reason why ridiculously corny, yet entirely appropriate phrases like “would make angels cry” ever came into existence.

    “For The Summer” features harmonica, accordion, and a lap steel guitar, in addition to the acoustic, bass, and drum set staples, and is one of the most dynamic songs on the album. A short intro using complex acoustic hammer-ons transitions smoothly into steel slides moving fluidly beneath the accompaniment of the first verse. LaMontagne’s vocals slide effortlessly through a full octave range, rising easily into high notes that turn impossibly smoother at the top.

    Other songs, such as “Repo Man” and “Beg Steal Or Borrow” lend a more upbeat feel to the album, with the latter contributing catchy lyrics about “howlin’ at the moon like a slack-jawed fool/a breaking every rule that they can throw on.”

    Getting through all 10 tracks in one sitting is effortless and by the end, it feels exactly like waking up from a refreshing nap.

    –Review by Kaitlin Cranor, Copyright 2010 UC-Denver Advocate

  • KimlovesRay!

    OMG is this guy even listening to the record? The title track gives me goosebumps. I can totally see a cowboy on the range writing his lady those words, missing her terribly…clearly this man has no romance in his blood and no sense in his brain! This is the best yet! Can’t wait for more Ray!!!

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