Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs, "God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise"

70 Billboard Rating

Ray LaMontagne has taken a few identity-affirming steps with his fourth studio album, "God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise": he anointed his touring band with a proper name (the Pariah Dogs) and, for the first time, recorded/self-produced the set from his own home. At the same time, LaMontagne removes himself from -- or perhaps asserts his band for -- the opening track "Repo Man," waiting a full minute-and-a-half to introduce his unique vocal style to the song's full, strutty orchestration. "God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise" takes a decidedly melancholy turn from the opening kiss-off, as the tempo drops and the slide guitar wails for tunes about urban claustrophobia ("New York City's Killing Me"), homesickness (the title track) and hopeless fatigue ("Are We Really Through") at the end of an affair. LaMontagne sells it, too. Every ounce of pain and acceptance rings true, not only through his raw vocal virtuosity but also thorough very live, immediate-sounding production that leaves deliberate, closely guarded space in otherwise active arrangements.

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