Its no secret that I like the honesty and simplicity of folk, but I have never really been a fan of Ray Lamontagne, despite the repeated testamony of a few of my friends to his genius. Never the less, I gave his latest album, ‘Gossip In The Grain’ another spin recently, as I knew he was touring through London and tickets were still available. Whether it was my mood at the time, or perhaps my friends were right, I could finally see some of the diamonds in the rough that they were talking about. I could hear the potential that he might have on stage, and so I booked 2 of the last few tickets available for his 2nd night at the Barbican.
Ray came on stage with his band, and suprisingly stood well to the right - as if making a point that he was part of the band, rather than the soloist. As a band, they sounded very tight and disciplined - it was quite clear that that each of the players was a master of their own instrument. Unfortunately, the more I listened to the show, the less convinced I was of them as a total ensemble. Its hard to put a finger on, but it honestly felt like they were going through the motions, and the music lacked the vibrancy and energy you’d expect of people who love what they do.
Dont get me wrong -the music itself good, and well put together, just the execution was lacking. I got the feeling that Sony obviously discovered Ray as a new, talented songwriter, signed him, and ‘invented’ something marketable for the folk/country niche, then put a band behind him. I’m sure this is common practice, but it seemed abit too contrived in this case. For the few tracks the band was off stage, it was evident that Ray was a solo artist to be reckoned with - he lit up and shone - with only his voice and acoustic guitar.
This probably wasnt helped by the peculiar lighting choice of fading to black between each song, and the fact that Ray seemed extremely shy (or disinterested), and reluctant to engage with the audience. As you’d expect this left most people in the auditorium feeling abit detached from the performance (Apparently the night before, people even started yelling out ‘Talk to us ray!’). As such, the most we got from Ray was 3 or 4 words after his final encore - ‘See you next time’ or something.
I’m sure many avid Ray fans will disagree strongly with my view, but all I have to compare with is the many wonderful performances I saw last year, and unfortunately, this one didnt measure up. I hope Ray tours again, by himself - I’d definately pay to see that!
heres a few samples :