Album Review: Ray LaMontagne's 'Monovision'
I'm about 3 months behind in hearing this album from its release date, but it's just so good, here I am writing a review the day after I got it.
This is Ray's 8th album, and in my opinion, the very best he's done yet. Every song is written and produced by him, he does all the vocals (lead and background), and from what I read, plays all the instruments on it as well. He heads back into his genre-less landscape of soulful soft rock / folk / country, and dips into a bit of southern rock sound here.
Just for context, if you've never heard his voice, it's been described as smoky, woolen, thick, yet light. It's versatile, but seems to best fit acoustic and soulful sounds the best.
I have to admit: as adamant a fan as I am of Ray, I skipped his album Supernova on grounds of it being very experimental in electronic music and very different from his past artistic flavors that I've loved. The stuff I did hear from it didn't really appeal to me. But in this album, he comes home (to where he and his voice belong, in my humble opinion). Monovision has a retro-recorded feel, making it sound older than it is, and it suits the feel of the music and his voice. The songs feel simply sincere and honest and not overworked or overproduced, which is amazingly refreshing for new music these days.
Here's a mini-synopsis of each track:
Track 1: Roll Me, Mama Roll Me
The song starts with a gentle guitar riff that betrays the soul and power that's about to appear with the vocals/lyrics. The song makes me think of Memphis, Tennessee for some reason. It's chill but not without its intensity. The vocal line shows up -- almost a Staples Singers 'Uncloudy Day' sort of feel in that the instruments stay at a minimum and let the vocals punch you in the face with some serious soul. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album just because it's so atmospheric.
Track 2: I Was Born to Love You
Ray has these songs every once in a while where the guy seems to be relying on a woman for more than he should, and though it's not a super attractive quality, at least he's grateful.
Could make you smile, could make you sing
Just want to give back a little bit of what you give me
I could sing you a song, play you a tune
I know it's just a little thing, but it's something I can do.
Track 3: Strong Enough
This one has a Creedence Clearwater Revival type of sound that seems to fit Ray's voice pretty perfectly. It's another one of his dips into a side-genre that makes you think that he could head in that direction and not turn around if he wanted to.
Ray was raised by a single mother in a small town, and this song is kind of a tribute to so many who have raised or been brought up in that lifestyle of a lot of sacrifice giving birth to a lot of hopes and dreams.
Track 4: Summer Clouds
Okay, you guys. For this girl who was raised listening to John Denver almost every day from cradle to adulthood, this song just feels like a big hug. It has that same reminiscent sadness that the song "Boy from the Country" has, and I could so easily imagine John Denver singing this, I almost wondered if he wrote it. The arrangement of the instruments, the melody, the delivery all make me easily imagine John Denver singing it.
The clarity of Ray's voice in this song is also really beautiful.
I'm almost embarrassed that my most favorite song on the album is the one with the simplest arrangement and delivery, but I don't care. I have a soft spot for quiet and melancholy songs that sound like a memory touching your shoulder with a sad smile on its face. The song is in the key of F, also my favorite. And the words are gorgeous:
Sunday, in the afternoon I'll stay if you want me to Hours roll like summer clouds And summer clouds don't worry About tomorrow
I see sparrow fly I see starlight in your eyes Hours roll like summer clouds And summer clouds don't worry About tomorrow
Will all of my words lie still as lifeless birds Tied to Earth in tangled lines? A soul inside you burns The wheel, it ever turns What is life but learning, learning how to cry?
My love, my evening star My heart is where you are Hours roll like summer clouds And summer clouds don't worry About tomorrow
And summer clouds don't worry About tomorrow
Track 5: We'll Make It Through
Don't you love a good song about making it through hard times together no matter what? And the feel of this song is so comforting, like putting a blanket over you. Matt and I slow-danced in our kitchen/living room to this song after a supper of bean soup and cornbread after a gray and chilly rainy day, and it was pretty perfect. And in all the turmoil, upheaval, and stress that everyone has experienced in some way or another in the year 2020, I'd like to nominate this song to be everyone's theme song for the rest of the year.
Here are the lyrics:
Had our share of the pain Of the clouds, and the rain Lean on me, and I'll lean on you And together, we'll get through We always do We always do
Hello, you're scared 'cause you can't see the light You toss and turn through the night Holdin' me, and I'm holdin' you And together, we'll get through We always do We always do We always do
Where do you go, when there's no road to follow? Faces look hollow, only strangers to you, now Where do you turn, when this livin' starts to burn through Layers that you learned wrap around your heart somehow
I turn to you I always do I always do I turn to you
Hello, you're scared, can't see the light Gotta believe it's gonna be alright Lean on me, and I'll lean on you And together, we'll get through We always do We always do We always do We always do
We'll make it through We always do We always do
Track 6: Misty Morning Rain
The title is a bit deceiving in that the song is much more energetic than one would think by name alone. Here's another dose of soul mixed in with some nature-focused lyrics, with apprehension of the times, without being political. I'll take some more of that, please.
Track 7: Rocky Mountain Healin'
Another story where someone feels that they just aren't where they should be, and they long for the country, the mountains, and home. This is another one that I could easily imagine John Denver singing. Ray touches on this topic in one of his older songs, "New York City's Killing Me," but I think this song is more hopeful, and the lyrics are much more beautiful and evocative.
Track 8: Weeping Willow
This is a simple, sweet song as far as lyrics go. The harmonies on the bridge are really unexpected, and it the rhythm swings almost toward a Latino feel. The whole thing is 70s without being overtly 70s. It's beautiful and surprising.
Track 9: Morning Comes Wearing Diamonds
Morning comes wearing diamonds
Where she is, the sun is shining
Throwing gold through the windows to the floor
Hear a bird singing a song I never heard before
Morning comes wearing diamonds.
This song is also really atmospheric and bright, like a clear sunset splashing that warm light into your house and the air getting cooler as night approaches. The cord progressions are kind of unexpected too, so it's really interesting and engaging aurally.
Track 10: Highway to the Sun
This is the first track I heard from this album, and it made me sit up and take notice. Of all the songs on Monovision, I think his voice is the most beautiful and crystal clear on this one. It seems like it could be a little sister song to 'Summer Clouds' in that it also has a bittersweet, reminiscent sound. Drive in the evening with your windows down to this and tell me that doesn't just feel so right.
All that to say, this album is what people who are sick of 2020's nonsense need if they're looking for good music to help them remember, be encouraged, and maybe even cry if you need to.
Go get it. You won't be disappointed.