Ray LaMontagne

Among the most frequently heard rock clichés are claims by performers that they took up music after hearing a tune by a legendary artist or group: Elvis, the Beatles, the Ramones, Nirvana, etc. LaMontagne, in contrast, declares that he made a similar decision after waking up to the strains of "Treetop Flyer," a Stephen Stills song harmless enough to have been covered by Jimmy Buffett. This anecdote has the ring of truth (if he were lying, he would have picked a hipper song), and so does 2004's Trouble, LaMontagne's debut. The CD's production, by Ethan Johns, who's actually worked with Crosby, Stills and Nash, is tasteful and austere. This approach leaves plenty of room for LaMontagne's rough-hewn but unexpectedly tender voice, which brings soulful compassion, rootsy authenticity and the occasional jazzy inflection to compositions such as "Burn," "Hannah" and the effortless title track. The vocalist -- who'll perform at an e-town taping in Boulder with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, and at a Fillmore stop in the company of Rachel Yamagata -- is on the rise, and no wonder. His songs are already better than the one that inspired his career.


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