B&E: Ray LaMontagne & George Huff

Breaking & Entering: A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Ray LaMontagne and George Huff.

Profiling acts breaking at radio and/or retail and entering Billboard's charts.

A LONG TIME COMING: For Ray LaMontagne, the moment he decided to pursue a music career came during a 4 a.m. wake-up call consisting of Stephen Stills' "Top Tree Flyer."

When the song ended, the self-taught singer/songwriter/guitarist chucked his shoe factory job, spending his days instead holed up in the neighborhood record store with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Otis Redding for company.

LaMontagne recorded a demo in 1999, which led to opening gigs on the vagabond folk circuit alongside artists like Jonathan Edwards and John Gorka. A chance performance for the governor of Maine led to a publishing deal with Chrysalis Music Publishing.

Four years later, La Montagne has emerged with his RCA debut, "Trouble." His husky timber is supplemented with acoustic guitar bursts and interrupted by falsetto peaks throughout the 10-track set, which was produced and mixed by Ethan Johns of Jayhawks, Ryan Adams and Kings Of Leon fame. Johns also contributes percussion, piano, drums, harmonium and additional guitar work throughout.

A five-piece orchestra plays on several songs and Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins appears on "Hannah" and "Jolene."

LaMontagne -- whose album landed at No. 41 last week on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart and moves to No. 38 this week -- will perform a small club tour in the U.S. through January with stops at Seattle's Dec. 4 Winter Warmth concert and New York's Bowery Ballroom on Jan. 19.

Artist: www.raylamontagne.com
Labe: www.rcarecords.com

George HuffHUFFIN' & PUFFIN': After belting out everything from Bill Withers to Elton John on television phenomenon "American Idol," third season finalist George Huff has found his fit in gospel.

New Orleans-bred Huff teams with Smokie Norful producers Cedric and Victor Caldwell for his first solo outing, "My Christmas EP" (Word Entertainment). The five-song collection includes rich gospel renditions of the holiday classics "Silent Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as well as the historical hymn "Go Tell it on the Mountain."

The set earns Huff his first solo Billboard chart position with a No. 23 bow last week on the Top Gospel Albums list. Huff previously charted as a contributor to the RCA compilation disc "American Idol Season 3: Greatest Soul Classics," which debuted in May at No. 10 on The Billboard 200.

Huff made it to the final five of Fox's "American Idol" and is currently on the international "American Idols Live" tour.

Artist: www.georgehuffworld.com
Label: www.wordrecords.com