How to (re)start this review on Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble”… first things first, the cover of the album was misleading. It sports an image of a girl and a devil dancing, done in a lithograph-esque style, leading me to believe the album was one of spanish guitar. This, however, was not the case. What I had come across, after putting the CD into my computer, is what I can only assume is Ray LaMontagne’s lamentations over, possibly, every other women he had been in a relationship with. Admittedly, what I first heard was more an enjoyable guitar paired with Ray’s voice; his is one that could be used for many a tune and tone. Yet, this entire album was more his lamentations and I found it highly repetitive in message.
His first song (also, the title track), “Trouble,” is little more upbeat than most of the other songs on this album, and gives way to a wonderful tune. However, the tempo and guitar strums make it feel more like a sing-along, providing a bit of an issue. Ray begins to sing and automatically one can realize this is him reminiscing over some past good relationship and life issue which he declares repetitively as “trouble”. Again, this repetition is almost an overbearing likeness to a camp marching tune. It could be if we kept Ray’s rustic voice and added a whole bunch of children singing with him.
The next song on this album is “Shelter,” again in a sound of mourning, this appears to be more like an apology to someone. This is made apparent with phrases like “I left you heartbroken, but not until those very words were spoken/Has anybody ever made such a fool out of you.” The rest of the song, again, is almost repetitive phrases of his want to shelter and be sheltered by this unknown female. It was, at this point in the track, that I came to the realization that most of the songs may become repetitive in the theme of sorrow due to lost love.
The third song on this album, “Hold You in My Arms,” starts out with an upbeat tune (still as is reminiscing rather than singing of joy), but then the lyrics begin to drone on again about past experiences of a female (I suppose). Then half the song is, again, repetitions. However, Ethan Johns includes amazing string arrangements into this song, and this is one shining point amongst all the monotonous woes and regular guitar strumming. As hearing this I thought perhaps there would be more of an advancement in this area of strings. Yet, not so; the rest of the song quickly slides into what sounded similar to the rest of the tracks on this album. Surprisingly though, he began to take a different notion with the mention of wars and old sayings surrounding the topic. It did get me to think that he might actually hold a deeper message for America and the general populace about the world, or maybe he is just relating more of his past relationships to now a war. I wasn’t entirely too sure.
Although I could bash most of the songs on this album for repetition and that feeling of a complete regret that the tune tries to encompass everything with, instead I will get onto two songs I thoroughly enjoyed; the first being “Narrow Escape”. This one is entirely different from the rest. It doesn’t involve Ray singing from first person perspective like most of the other songs; he is singing a tale of a young man name Lejos, who people have assumed to have committed a crime. Lejos, I assume out of love and fear, runs for his life. His lover forgives him of his “sins” and ultimately dies saving the fleeing Lejos. I like this tale, it’s regretful almost, but it’s a story, it’s not self-pity, but it is compassion and more inspirationally hopeful. Plus the harmonica provides a good feeling and tone set to the mood for the song.
The second song I enjoyed on this album was “How Come”. This is more about general life and how society functions, or rather, not how, but about taking notice that society seems to be a mess. This is far different as again, it’ not about woes or relations, but, as the title suggests, a question put forward to rest of the world on why we continue with our lack of communication and compassion for each other. This, I feel, is more of an expression of his talents than the rest of the songs on the album.
This album as a whole isn’t an album I’d go out of my way to listen to. As a reviewer, I’ll admit I’m biased on music preference; I’m not one for listening to the woes of other people without action. If perchance I had a hard break-up or some other relationship issue, I would find myself listening to it. However, on an everyday basis, this would not be my first choice. Ray has talent and this was his debut album, so his talent will probably increase far beyond that of this album. He has potential to possibly be able to sing and play whatever he wishes, and I did enjoy the tune of this music, but the overuse of laments in this album ruined it, personally. It was not an exposition of his potential, but what I would say most would call a sentence to where you can expect most of his music to sound like, and I would hope that would not be the case. If Ray LaMontagne expanded and broaden his style he could have the potential to get up there with artists like Bruce Cockburn (who I’m a fan of). However, for “Trouble” as a standalone, I’m not thrilled by the music, and just vaguely impressed by the artist.
Listen to “Trouble” on Spotify: