Folk artist Ray Lamontagne often seems like a loner. His albums contain tales of woe and torment—with a little joy folded in for good measure, at times—that seem suited for a man that is destined to always suffer from a broken heart or busted soul.
Lamontagne’s upcoming album, God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise, provides an immediate sign that perhaps Lamontagne isn’t the loner that he has seemed to be. Lamontagne’s backing band for this album, The Pariah Dogs, receive top billing with the soft-spoken, wooly-bearded troubadour. And judging by the successful, country stomp of a lead single, “Beg Steal or Borrow,” it’s clear that the team-oriented nature of this release exists well beyond the album jacket.
Lamontagne’s often pained, sleepy rasp is, as usual, the subversively authoritative star of the show, as the pedal steel of in-demand virtuoso Greg Leisz compliments while still commanding its own share of the shine. Add a little twangy fender picking and Lamontagne makes it clear that he is in the market to add some dusty boots to his closet to set alongside his Birkenstocks.
Lyrically, Lamontgne proffers a higher caliber of “advice song” than what is typically displayed these days. Such songs generally consist of an imbecilic youngster reluctantly reaching out to an older man, who is seemingly wise, simply due to the fact he carries an AARP card in his wallet. Here, it is assumed that the listener has more than a couple of brain cells that aren’t in need of complete exposition and forgoes such clichés in order to dive right into the content. The lyrics, “Are you gonna step into line like your daddy done and punchin’ the time, climbing life’s long ladder,” are, in the end, more of a challenge than they are simplistic, dime-store, greeting card text.
Lamontagne has always been able to get by, even if he’s all by himself in his Massachusetts cabin, but, as usual, it always helps to have a little helps from some friends.