Ray LaMontagne in ‘Trouble’ at Beachland

Jason C. LeRoy

“Damn sunlight! Leave me be!” Short-on-words singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne will be playing an emotional show at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom tomorrow night.

Credit: Andrew popik

As an entertainment journalist, you start to notice certain patterns regarding the behavior of different kinds of musicians within interviews. For instance, people in punk bands are more likely to make unprintable references to drug use and other assorted felonies. Emo bands are more likely to burst into tears when asked what their career goals are.

And folk singers are most likely to offer one- or two-word replies to obviously loaded questions, while you will them to give you a good quote.

Such was the case when this reporter interviewed folk-rock troubadour Ray LaMontagne, who will be performing at the Beachland Ballroom tomorrow night. LaMontagne burst out of nowhere this past year with the RCA release, Trouble. The CD’s title track immediately became a staple of adult alternative stations around the country, including Akron’s 91.3 The Summit.

Prior to 1999, LaMontagne had never entertained the thought of becoming a singer. But all that changed when he awoke to the sound of a Stephen Stills song one morning. Suddenly, he was transformed from a factory worker to a singer/songwriter. He set off learning the guitar and trying his hand at songwriting and began playing gigs around the country until getting the attention of the label heads at RCA.

However, I did not learn any of this from speaking with Mr. LaMontagne. As a matter of fact, I learned very little from our exchange. For instance, when I asked him what the songwriting process (a process of which I stand in awe) looked like for someone who just became a musician out of nowhere, he responded thusly:

“Well, the songs come into my head, and I write them down.” (long silence)

I was also at a loss when attempting to ask him about the use of a meaningful and profound quote from Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ in the packaging of his CD. Upon asking him how he came across the quote, he replied:

“I was reading the book.” (long silence)

Undeterred, I plunged ahead by asking him how he came across the book.

“Uhh, it was in a box.” (long silence)

You get the gist. However, the fact that LaMontagne may not be the most loquacious bloke in the world has no relevance on the quality of his music. This is very fortunate because LaMontagne is one of the strongest and most compelling new talents to emerge in the arena of male singer/songwriters in quite a few years.

Most frequently compared to Van Morrison, LaMontagne combines blues, folk and rock into a soulful, engaging and surprisingly melodic mix. His raspy but emotive voice grabs the listener’s attention immediately, leaving you no choice but to stop what you’re doing and think, “Who is this?”

The lyrical content of the album is a meditation on the spiritual and the carnal, which is further underscored by the Kazantzakis quote. This could not be more simply or powerfully illustrated than by LaMontagne’s impassioned wailing on the chorus of the title track, in which he intones, “I’ve been saaaaaaved…by a woman.” However, don’t bother asking LaMontagne if this was intentional, because I already did.

“No, not really. It just seemed to be the way the batch was going.” (long silence)

The album has been incredibly well-received, even popping up on the Best of 2004 lists of publications such as Paste Magazine. However, LaMontagne is not concerned with such acclaim.

“I don’t pay too much attention to it,” he said in an atypically wordy outburst. “I gauge things by the live shows. I’m pleased with how things are going, and it’s nice to be complimented, but I care more about how the live shows go. I don’t read my own press. I’m not too interested in other people’s opinions of me.”

LaMontagne said he has basically been touring consistently since May of 2004, but that doesn’t mean he’s got it down yet.

“The tour has had its ups and downs,” he said. “It’s been pretty good for the most part, but some nights you just can’t find the juice. It just kinda lays there. Flopping around.”

Hopefully there won’t be any flopping around when LaMontagne comes to the Beachland tomorrow night. But even if there is, LaMontagne will take it in stride.

“Your path is just sort of laid out before you,” he said. “You just follow it and see what happens.”

Contact pop arts reporter Jason LeRoy at [email protected].