Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ray LaMontagne -- Trouble

Ray LaMontagne's story is a great example of destiny finding you. What are the chances that a young man who barely graduated high school, moved around with his Mom and five other siblings, and never studied music or voice would eventually be signed to Chrysalis Records, would release his first effort ("Trouble") and be nominated for "Best New Touring Artist" at Pollstar? I mean, really, what are the chances? Slim to none.

Ray never spent his childhood engulfed in music. Nothing captured his interest except making a living where he finally ended up at a shoe factory in Maine. It wasn't until he heard Stephen Stills' "Tree Top Flyer" one morning that things changed for Ray LaMontagne. You can listen to the Stills song on Amazon here Treetop Flyer. I just had to hear the song, of course (thought you might like to as well).

"Stills Alone" which featured "Treetop Flyer" was released in 1991. Ray ran out and bought it that day instead of heading into the shoe factory. He spent the next eight years learning to sing and play guitar and imitating Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Neil Young; Otis Redding (who he sounds a lot like); Bob Dylan; and Joni Mitchell. He even taught himself how to sing using his diaphragm instead of his nose. He quit his job at the factory and started his musical journey.

Destiny would intervene yet again in 1999 when he recorded his first demo of 10 songs, never having performed on stage, and met Jamie Ceretta of Chrysalis Music Publishing. Meanwhile, Ray did some intimate shows at a little club in Maine where he honed his stage skills. Again ... I ask ... what are THE chances? Destiny was calling.

Jamie hooked him up with other execs at Chrysalis who funded a deal for Ray's first effort before they even knew where they'd put his disc. Jamie knew Ray was a special artist and pushed his career forward.

If you've ever seen Ray perform live, you'll understand just how shy this guy is. He barely made eye contact with the sold out standing room only (and there were PLENTY of us standers) show at "The Rex" on Pittsburgh's South Side. Women were screaming his name and throwing God knows what lingere on stage and he would just shuffle his feet and quietly chuckle, launching into his next song as if he might be standing alone in his kitchen eyeing the pots and pans. He really relies on his band mate (one lone upright bass player) to keep him secure at live shows.

I went to the show not knowing ANY-thing about the guy. A friend talked me into going; not that I'm never up for live music in smallish clubs for any reason but I'd just been to see four shows before Ray strolled into town.

There we were, standing at the back of the former movie theater being jostled around by some nearby drunks, when Ray walked on stage with his bass player. The place went NUTS! When things quieted down, Ray began his 90 minute show with "You Should Belong to Me." His voice, raw and gritty, was soulful and booming at times, silky quiet at others. I kept thinking to myself, "who does he sound like?" when it finally came to me: Otis Redding with a little Michael McDonald thrown in.

His performance, though subdued in terms of audience banter, was mesmerizing stylistically. The show stoppers for me were "Shelter" and "Trouble." I simply cannot get over how closely his CD mimics his live presence. There was no tinkering in the studio with this one.

He has toured extensively in Europe to sold out shows as well. If you catch him in your town, get tickets immediately because he sells out within days. Rumour has it, he's in the studio again which can only mean great things are coming although no touring at present. I read one account this evening of a woman trying to buy his CD in England but none of the stores had any copies left. She finally found one that had a single copy left but Elton John was on the phone asking if they could hold it for him. She ended up the victor (awww, poor Elton).

If you'd like to check out Ray's unbelievable sound go to his web site at Ray LaMontagne.


Blogger heather said...

thanks for stopping by! ray IS amazing, nice write-up you have here!

9:45 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Fun, fun read. Lucky you to have seen Ray live. I just got his Bonarroo CD in the mail today and have been listening all afternoon. You are right about him sounding as lovely live as on the Trouble CD. I've never heard 'You Should Belong to Me'. Is that a cover or one of his originals?

1:03 AM  
Blogger Janet & Seth said...

Thank you for your comment on my blog! I really enjoyed reading your experience seeing him live. I found him last year when he was featured on the Today Show. I wrote his name on a scrap of paper and kept it with me for 2 months. My husband was with me when we watched him perform on TV. 2 months later I got his CD for my birthday. I have not stopped listening to it! * Janet

11:15 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

Hi, thanks for commenting on mine too. It is a magnificent album, easily my favourite of the year (well, it's been on rotation with Van's Saint Dominic's Preview and David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name).

Have you heard a song of his called 'Can I Stay?'

6:28 AM  
Blogger Stacey said...

Thanks Jessica! "You Should Belong to Me" was written by Ray although there have been other similar titles such as "You Belong to Me" performed by Patsy Cline and Dylan which was written in 1952.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

Martin, yes, I have. He plays it at the live shows and there are some bootlegs floating around of those if you check the boards. It might show up on his new CD. Check here to see if someone has it on tape. Good luck!

8:05 PM  

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