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

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.