Ray LaMontagne - Ouroboros (B+)

I always struggle to write something expansive when I really love an album, it’s not that I’m at a loss of words but more that words won’t do it justice. It’s all in the sound and the feelings derived from it. I can say all the right things and you may listen and agree with me but everyone’s experience is different, and I want you to find what YOU love about the album rather than trying to feel what I felt. However, there is one thing regarding Ouroboros I think we should all agree on; this is how music should be delivered. Before we get into that let's first talk about the man himself.

Ray’s debut album was released a little more than a decade ago (2004’s Trouble) and despite it being his first record he felt like someone who had been around awhile. It wasn’t his timeless sound or the soulful whisper in which he delivered it, it was the maturity he carried, both in his songwriting and his presence. Though in a recent interview he said that he has a hard time even listening to his early work because he feels he manhandled the process, “I’m trying too hard. I’m trying to shape the songs too much. I’m singing too hard. I’m pushing too hard.” From an artists standpoint it makes sense, all you're hearing is how you could have made it better. As a listener I don’t hear it. Everything comes across so naturally. His music carries this warmth, not always in the mood of the music itself, but from the man creating it. His love of the art is evident and surprisingly, that isn’t as common as you might think. Every time I see him live I'm taken over, and if you get a chance don't hesitate (he'll be at The Greek on 9/11/16, see you there!). The warmth he emits is just as vibrant on this new record as it was 12 years ago, which brings us to Ouroboros

Ouroboros is spectacular; and bringing in My Morning Jacket’s Jim James to produce has definitely taken Ray’s vision to higher place. The more I listen the more I keep thinking to myself this might be the best album he’s put together. His previous albums feature a cohesiveness, but in a complimentary sense. He would find a mood and style and create the record within it, so the album is seen as a whole, rather than a grouping of singles. With Ouroboros he takes that approach to another level. The album is split into two parts, with four songs in each part, though each part plays as one long piece of music. The flow is nothing short of spectacular, the transitions are seamless to the point where you can’t tell where songs start and end, until the closing of the first movement (“While It Still Beats”), which finishes with a gorgeous blanket of sound that you can’t help but be completely engulfed by. The entire album exists in a sort of dream-like world, but there is a definite distinction between the two movements as Part One features a much heavier sound. Though it starts off softly, with the endearing and poetic “Homecoming,” the next few tracks, led by the album single “Hey, No Pressure,” carry an infectious bluesy-rock vibe. Part Two defines itself immediately with the airy and gentle “In My Own Way” and continues from there; flowing into the folky “Another Day” and then onto the smooth, light, guitar driven instrumental “A Murmuration of Starlings” (close your eyes and just drift), and finishing us off with the closer, “Wouldn’t It Make A Lovely Photograph.” Each time I’ve listened I have no choice but to lay down and let it wash over me. The atmosphere it creates is unlike anything I’ve heard in quite some time, very visual, it’s as though you’re listening to someone painting, hearing each stroke, and when it’s done the painting is shown to you and the entire piece hits you and you feel it’s impact. It’s truly an elevated experience. This is not an album to brush to the side, as you’d be doing yourself a great disservice. I won’t be choosing a single here, I refuse too. Take the time to listen and give it the respect it deserves. I’ll also include an album commentary he released, it’s short but insightful. Speaking of insightful here’s a link to the article I mentioned earlier (click here), great interview and an excellent read! 

Personal Note: Just like anyone who loves music I sometimes picture myself on that big stage, singing my heart out, jamming with the band, connecting people with my art. I’ll even create fake introductions before I start the song, as if it was my own music, “This song I wrote for the love of my life, thanks for making me the luckiest man alive!” and then I’ll look at my beautiful wife Alice Eve who will mouth, “I love you!” before I tear into the Prim & Proper (my band name, book us!) classic “Insert any hit song you’d like we wrote ‘em all.” Point is, within that dream we all have an artist whose career you’d like to have. You’ll take it all: the songs, the style, the presence, and my choice has always been Ray. He’s got the soul, the talent, and the cool, and most importantly, he’s all about the music. I’ll get there guys, don’t worry. In the meantime I’ll just keep pretending. Fake it till you make it baby!