Please Explain The Appeal Of Ray LaMontagne To Me

Jul 15th, 2008 // 36 Comments

Ray-Lamontagne.jpgI’ve been characterized by some of this site’s commenters as cranky and ill-informed in the past, so maybe one of you can enlighten me regarding a recent dilemma. (I’m not trying to start a fight, I promise.) People keep telling me that I should check out Ray LaMontagne. Why?

I had nearly forgotten about LaMontagne (whose last name is no fun to type at all) until hearing about his upcoming appearance at Radio City Music Hall. Apparently, he sold out the Beacon Theatre when he last played New York, so I guess he can fill up Radio City. But I generally can tolerate rootsy singer-songwriter types–by which I mean, I really like one Ryan Adams disc–and I don’t find LaMontagne enjoyable to listen to at all.

The most puzzling adjective that I find in reviews of LaMontagne’s music is “soulful.” My immediate assumption is that these writers are pulling that term from a press release–but if they aren’t, why? I guess his raspier tone gives him the appearance of being more authentic than some of the twenty year old singer songwriters flooding Triple-A radio stations these days, but a vocal style itself doesn’t instantly grant “soul,” does it? I like Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” a lot, but I wouldn’t call it “soulful”. Otherwise, the comparison that seems to keep coming up is Van Morrison, which I understand a little if we’re referring to the “Wait, this guy used to be really good, didn’t he?” era of Morrison’s career, but I don’t think I hear an Astral Weeks coming from this guy, unless he’s just using a series of goofy covers to buy himself some time before creating his masterpiece.

So, can anyone explain the appeal?

Ray LaMontagne Announces Radio City Music Hall Show [Glide]

  1. Ned Raggett

    Nope. I feel pretty much like you do. (Actually, based on my thoughts on him here (scroll down a few paragraphs), I seem to have really hated him but like you I’d barely remembered him at all recently.)

  2. SomeSound-MostlyFury

    He fills concert halls with the same music fans who fill concert halls for Norah Jones. Soft, pleasant, sometimes slightly jazzy arrangements, sleepy voice, love songs. Old people swoon.

  3. jetsetjunta

    Last year I heard a long NPR segment (weekend edition maybe?) with an interview and some songs performed. I think you can’t underestimate the power of that on the exact audience for this kind of music.

  4. Tauwan

    I don’t own an album by the guy, and I can’t say that I have rushed out and bought any of his discs, but I will say this, the soulful goodness of this song can’t be denied:

  5. GhostOfDuane

    @SomeSound-MostlyFury: You got it. Old people like him. As someone who likes music that old people like, I don’t really get him either.

  6. How do I say this ... THROWDINI!

    @GhostOfDuane: Of my friends whose musical taste I trust (read: mostly agree with), its only the girls that like this guy. Most of the guys’ opinions can be summarized as “eh.”

  7. Lax Danja House

    by which I mean, I really like one Ryan Adams disc

    Heartbreaker or Gold?

  8. TheRunningboard7

    Chicks dig beards. End of story.

  9. SomeSound-MostlyFury

    @GhostOfDuane: @How do I say this … THROWDINI!: Never underestimate the raw purchasing power of old ladies.

  10. Dan Gibson

    @Lax Danja House: Heartbreaker, obvs.

  11. DaeSu

    He’s like Marc Cohn’s play cousin. Meh.

  12. DaeSu

    Or, a too-earnest Kenny Loggins.

  13. Anonymous

    Soulful=full of emotion. Check.

    Relate-able lyrics (esp. to NPR listeners). Check.

    Beard. Check.

    What’s your question??

    BTW, with the greatest respect, comparing “Young Turks” to anything by Ray LaMontagne mkes me think you should stick to writing about Pete Wentz, sir.

  14. bcapirigi

    I think he’s dreadful.

  15. Dan Gibson

    @owenmeany: Re-read the post. I don’t think the songs sound anything alike, just that gravely voices don’t automatically equate with “soulfulness”.

  16. Thierry

    Pete Yorn for people who like beards.

  17. heyzeus

    The person who first told me about him said “he’s kinda like jeff buckley meets elliott smith.”

    So i listened.

    He is not.

  18. Chris Molanphy

    Man, I am not going to try to defend Ray LaM. against this wall of vitriol, but all I’ll say is: I was at the Beacon show two Decembers ago, which was good, not life-changing; the first record’s better than the second; and yeah, mostly it’s gals I know who have gotten me into him. I dunno, I like the sound of his records, and I think Norah Jones is far snoozier.

  19. Josh Mock

    Apparently I’m in the small demographic of dudes that like LaMontagne’s music. Hmm.

    For me I think it’s the “tortured artist” appeal. I like hearing him sing about being a coke-binging wanderer. It’s kind of like… sad bastard music on par with mall emo pop, but for grown-ups. Or something.

    I’m probably going to music snob hell for saying that.

  20. Chris Molanphy

    @Tardy: It was his schtick: Ray has this “I’m so painfully shy and hurting” thing that apparently precludes him being a polite human being.

    Actually, having seen the guy live, I have to agree — his shy, retiring bullshit did nothing for me.

    Still: the records are pretty. OhToWant1Thing is basically dead-on with the “sad bastard emo pop” thing.

  21. Anonymous

    If only it was a schtick! The guy really IS socially inept, and I think his music works precisely because it’s understated. It doesn’t grab you and shake you by the shoulders; just quietly asks to be let in and really reveals its strengths over time.

  22. Anonymous

    @OhToWant1Thing: For me I think it’s the “tortured artist” appeal. I like hearing him sing about being a coke-binging wanderer. It’s kind of like… sad bastard music on par with mall emo pop, but for grown-ups. Or something.

    I think that’s it exactly. And that’s why he pisses me off.

    I saw him perform when he shared a bill with a fave band of mine a couple of summers ago in Prospect Park. Musically, he was fine – decent anguished folk-rock with a solid band behind him – but nothing earth-shattering. Even the hippie/emo kids did annoy me all that much. It was his schtick: Ray has this “I’m so painfully shy and hurting” thing that apparently precludes him being a polite human being. He came on the stage; he sang; he left. No thank yous to the crowd who paid nearly $50 and stood in line in the rain to get in. No band introductions (they were quite good). No acknowledgment of the opening band or band following him on the bill. Nothing. Seriously: how hard is it to say thank you?

    The following week he dropped off the tour. I have a feeling it was more about ‘assholishness’ than ‘shyness,’ but that’s just a guess.

  23. DaeSu

    @heyzeus: Whoever suggested this guy sounds like Jeff Buckley or Elliott Smith needs to be slapped. Hard and repeatedly.

  24. Mrs. Stephen Fry

    @owenmeany: I’m with you.

    If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. Doesn’t mean you have to shit all over it.

  25. MrStarhead

    Didn’t he get kicked off a Guster tour a couple of years ago for getting in a shouting match with a fan?

  26. maine

    When I listen to him it gives me goose-bumps… his voice is epic. He is just one of those people who sings and writes songs because he loves it and not for the fame and fortune. LOVE HIM <3

  27. maine

    Oh and as a side note, I’m not an old person…22 and I know several men who love him as well, to each their own

  28. cory

    All you dibshits need to stop. Ray is not an asshole hes just really quiet person,who by chance likes to sing. who lyrics are amazing. look up interveiw and youll see hes soft spoken. he prefers to play in the dark half the time. so your all calling him an asshole because hes not a people person, fucking idiots hes folk not rock,pop hes has the right to be who hes is.

  29. I like this guy

    Man, maybe you guys are tonedeaf, his voice is beautiful, its one of the more beautiful voices in modern music. I saw him live and I was in a trance, I’m a 24 year old guy.

  30. Bryan

    There’s no great secret… as a fan of his I enjoy his melodies and find his voice very unique (in a good way obviously). It’s not for everyone I guess.

  31. I am addicted to Ray Lamontagne’s music. He has the sweetest soulful pain in his voice…if you can see the beauty in pain you should see the beauty in his music. I’m a 25-year-old guy

  32. Brennan

    I can’t comment on Ray’s personal life, but his music relaxes me. I think his voice is very well controlled in a subtle way. He makes you think he won’t hit that note, but then crushes it.

    I heard about him through Zac Brown Band’s cover is “Jolene” and have been hooked ever since. I have heard great things about Damien Rice, but I don’t think he is great, maybe I’m missing something. People have different taste in music, and Ray’s music just clicked with me.

    22 year old guy btw.

  33. Ben H.

    Everyone here has it completely wrong. It’s not about his sound at all (I normally don’t like his kind of sound) but about the content, you have to really LISTEN to Ray. Your other problem is that you picked maybe his two most radio-friendly songs, which tend to be the worst songs any artist produces. If you can listen and really absorb the lyrics with songs like Burn, Empty, Jolene, Shelter, and not feel anything, then you haven’t done very much living. Ray’s appeal is his universality, no matter who you are if you hear his lyrics he will reach into your chest, rip out every pain you’ve ever felt in your life, rub your nose in it, and leave you a quivering mess on the floor when he walks off stage.

    Or you can just listen to guitar hooks from his radio songs and never get it.

  34. Ted

    His first album was his best.
    If you listen to Shelter and ESPECIALLY Jolene and you’re not genuinely moved, check your pulse, you may be dead.

  35. jc

    Iam a singer and have rarely found any male artist exhilirating. I was hooked the moment he said “trouble.” he is real.

  36. The appeal with Ray is that he’s authentic. There’s no pretension in his voice or his songs or his manner. It’s not phoney or contrived. Authenticity is where “soul” is found.

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