When it was time for Ray LaMontagne to begin recording his fourth album, the location he chose came as a surprise to absolutely no one. Long known as something of a recluse who prefers the comforts of his home in western Massachusetts to hitting the road, LaMontagne summoned his backing band the Pariah Dogs to his 23-room farmhouse and spent two weeks recording "God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise," due Aug. 17 on RCA.
LaMontagne also took over production duties, but that doesn't mean he takes full credit for the album -- he's releasing the record under the name "Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs," another first.
Mick Management founder/president Michael McDonald, who has managed LaMontagne from the beginning, believes all the changes are for the best.
"To me, the biggest difference is his approach to the record, and really the confidence that he's shown on this to produce it himself, to do it at his house, to write all the material, present it to the band and record it soon thereafter," he says. "He's breaking new ground for himself with the melodies that he's singing, but also the way he's using his voice."
According to Nielsen SoundScan, LaMontagne's first studio album, "Trouble" (2004), has sold 529,000 copies, and the follow-up, 2006's "Till the Sun Turns Black," 296,000. His most recent release, "Gossip in the Grain" (2008), has sold 345,000.
"What's exciting to watch is people discovering him on the second album, and then going and rediscovering the first album. Or people finding out about him on the third album and then being able to rediscover the catalog," McDonald says. "It's such a treat when you find an artist a few albums into their career, and then go back and see what you missed when it was current and to have such a bulletproof body of work."
"God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise" is a continuation of the raw, rustic folk-blues that has earned LaMontagne much praise. Some tracks, including first single "Beg Steal or Borrow" and "New York City's Killing Me," wouldn't have sounded out of place on earlier efforts. But other songs, including "Old Before Your Time" and "Devil's in the Jukebox," are more twangy and showcase the Pariah Dogs' contribution.
LaMontagne will hit the road in mid-August with David Gray, but fans shouldn't expect much of a dog-and-pony routine between tracks. "I always felt, as a listener at a show, that when there was too much banter between the artist and the audience that it detracted from the show," he says. "I more enjoyed shows where the guys came out and they just played."
McDonald says the pairing with Gray makes sense, and despite this summer's troubling touring numbers, he's optimistic about the turnout. "Both of them have such devout fan bases that I think most fans are aware of the other. I think we'll do well, because we've got two incredibly talented artists and a totally reasonable ticket price," he says.
According to RCA senior VP of marketing Aaron Borns, the label has significant plans to market the album, including a redesign and relaunch of RayLaMontagne.com. "His websites, in the past, have been more sort of purely informational, and now we're looking to have it be a hub and an opportunity for fans to post themselves about their passion for Ray," Borns says.
Borns adds that the label is relying on LaMontagne's skills as a storyteller to sell the album. "With him, it's less a question of targeting and more just telling the story of what this particular record means to him," Borns says.
"Every song is different. Some songs are more visceral and personal and some aren't," LaMontagne says. "And some just have bits and pieces of personal truths. But really, what matters is the emotional truth of the song. If it's honest, if it's real, those are things you can't fake. I'm just trying to craft a song that will last."