Gossip In The Grain
4.5 out of 5 stars
There is something to be said about the tortured songwriter who finds emotional release in his or her music and the emotional connection usually forms quickly between singer and listener.
Ray Lamontagne has fit that mold almost too perfectly with his first two albums. His third, Gossip in the Grain, finds a matured songwriter delivering his most poignant work, a clear-cut piece of work to be remembered by.
Recorded in Box, England with producer Ethan Johns once again back in the control room, Lamontagne has finally found a medium between his upbeat songs like “Trouble” and “Forever My Friend” off his debut album Trouble and the darkness that permeated his follow-up album Till The Sun Turns Black.
Gossip in the Grain’s strength lies in Lamontagne’s and Johns’ decision to use a wide variety of instrumentation at their disposal, including a horn section and gospel background vocals on the album opener, “You Are The Best Thing,” a string section on “Let it Be Me” and my favorite album track “Sarah,” Wurlitzer on “Meg White,” banjo on “Hey Me, Hey Mama,” and blues harp on “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame).”
What they have been able to accomplish was take Lamontagne’s often simple folk songs and turn them into their own musical soundscapes. This is also the first album to include his backup band in the recording process, and guitarist Eric Heywood, bassist Jennifer Condos and backup vocalist Leona Ness also contribute greatly.
Gossip in the Grain doesn’t sound like a solo album. It sounds like a band whose members are aware and capable of living up to their smaller role within the bigger group. This makes Lamontagne sound less like a singer/songwriter and more like a musician.
That change is absolutely welcoming and will probably draw more people to his music, which is why most people get into the business to begin with — to turn as many people on to their music as possible. If anyone else tells you otherwise, they are lying.
One thing Gossip in the Grain accomplishes is a foreshadowing of things to come. For Lamontagne the future is bright.
Album standouts include the Nick Drake-influenced “Sarah,” the upbeat “You Are The Best Thing” and the bluesy “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame).”
— Jonathan Keller