Americana Outlaws – Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs
Contributing Writer – Garret K. Woodward
Ray LaMontagne makes me feel like a teenage girl.
Screams of joy escape my lungs when I find out he’s nearby. All my friends grow weary over my constant babbling about him. If there were a life-size poster available, I’d probably buy one.
His music is just that good, just that ideal sense of wonder and comfort, making those dark days seem bright again.
For the better of a decade, LaMontagne (who reportedly heard “Treetop Flyer” by Stephen Stills and quit his job at a shoe factory to pursue music) has won over fans and critics alike with his smoky voice and poignant wisdom hearkening back to an era dominated by Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison.
Though a reclusive artist, he has a bright spotlight aimed in his direction. He symbolizes honesty, clarity and tradition, a perception few and far between in the studio and on the radio. With his phenomenal backing group, The Pariah Dogs, their latest release (God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise) is a shooting star of style and grace across a musical industry congested with the smog of mediocrity and its own inconsequential priorities.
Moseying into Essex Junction, Vermont for a rare performance, LaMontagne found himself at odds with Mother Nature, who teased her unpredictable chaos throughout the day with severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings.
The Midway Lawn at the Champlain Valley Exposition was a fresh vat of mud soup. Innumerable rain boots and Crocs made the hop, skip and a jump around the premises, drenched from weeks of unrelenting rain and improper drainage. Patrons sipped on hot coffee and cold beer in order to find some small piece of luxury amid the dampness.
LaMontagne emerged from the backstage darkness. “Hold You In My Arms”, like gravel wrapped in silk, silenced the raucous beer tent and left burning cigarettes dangling from astonished mouths (“When you kissed my lips with my mouth so full of questions/My worried mind that you quiet/Place your hands on my face/Close my eyes and say/That love is a poor man’s food”).
“Where does that sound come from?” a curious voice was overheard remarking.
Raindrops, teardrops and guitar notes trickled onto the cold ground. Like a farmhouse chimney in the winter, his calming breaths of lyrical magic (“For The Summer”) drifted into the crisp night air (“Can I come home for the summer/I could slow down for a little while/Get back to loving each other/Leave all those long and lonesome miles behind”).
“Thank you very much, thank you,” the aw-shucks singer modestly said after each selection.
The ensemble, resembling a gang of Americana outlaws in tone and appearance, is a well-oiled machine of grit, natural talent and playful ambition, pushing deeper into not only their minds, but also the psyche of those they play for and about.
Though hands held jackets tight against their bodies, gyrating legs in the audience splashed merrily in giant puddles ready to be classified as small ponds. Constantly yearning for the simple life, LaMontagne preaches pure freedom (“New York City’s Killing Me”), one that many often overlook or all too easily forget (“I get so tired of all this concrete/I get so tired of all this noise/Gotta get back up in the country/An have a couple drinks with the good ole’ boys”).
It’s not so much that Ray LaMontagne is doing something new, insofar that it’s about holding onto to something time-tested and aged to perfection. What he represents is sincerity and vulnerability, something missing from modern music that, like good whiskey, will only get better with age as not only he, but us, journey further down the desired path of righteousness and truth.