Ray LaMontagne

We lie, under a lavender sky
Under a lavender sky we lie
Do you, do you remember the day?
Do you remember when we felt that way?

Four declaratory chords on electric guitar give way to strummed acoustic guitar, a whispered, percussive, ‘tchick-ahhh’ chorus and dreamy, swirling Mellotron, and electric harpsichord.  This is ‘Lavender’, the opening track on Ray LaMontagne’s unapologetically retro album of blissed-out lyrics dressed up in sixties psychedelic colours, complete with phasing, echoey multi-track vocals and catchy choruses that sweep this listener back to innocent times when Pink Floyd sang ‘Remember a Day’ and and the Zombies strummed ‘Time of the Season’.  Even the title of the album – Supernova – harks back to the days when, uncharacteristically, the Stones dreamed of being 2000 Light Years From Home.  This is the perfect summer soundtrack, and through these last few weeks of midsummer sunshine I’ve had it on repeat.

It’s been years since I listened to Ray LaMontagne – after his 2004 debut album Trouble, with its title track that epitomised melancholy Americana, I’d kind of lost touch.  Now in his forties, LaMontagne has spent the last decade producing more of the same – four albums of folky, introspective songs.  And now this – an album that draws heavily on the psychedelic pop and country-rock of the late 1960s and early ’70s.  A guy whose songs were renowned for their gruff melancholy now trips the light fantastic and sings about tripping over clover.

Sitting in the cool of the shadows under
Can you hear the laughter of the river, daughter?
Under water fish are flashing
In the sky a thunder crashing
– ‘Smashing’

Ray LaMontagne Supernova

On the title track, LaMontagne’s vocals come wrapped deliciously in a sensual swirl of hand claps, cheesy organ, Mellotron and glockenspiel. ‘Supernova’ shares with many of the tracks in this collection a kind of wistful nostalgia:

Zoe you and me we’ve been hanging out now
Ever since we were kids, just kicking around,
this town
Zoe you know me and I don’t back down
When I know what I want, and I think I found it

I want you, be my girl
I want you, be my girl

Zoe, you’re so Supernova!

There are two great road songs here: the cool, jazzy ‘Airwaves’ which has Rusty James and Patty Sue ‘rolling out of east L.A.’ making their way to Santa Fe:

She says “whatcha thinking?”
I’m coming with you
I’m coming with you

‘Ojai’ is shimmering country-rock that might have come via Neil Young circa Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, a gorgeous track with a steady, jogging rhythm and exquisite slide guitar. Here’s that wistful sense of the years passing again:

I don’t know where the years have gone,
Just know I’m worse for hangin’ on
Maybe it’d be best if I just let things lie
Guess I’m never gonna get back to Ojai

The whole album is a reminder of how, once decades ago, simple songs could mean a lot.  LaMontagne has recaptured the combination of well-crafted songs, catchy choruses, terrific hooks, and clever gear changes that made the 1960s a golden era of deceptively simple music that spoke volumes.

The closing track on Supernova, ‘Drive-In Movies’, once again exudes the sense of wistful nostalgia and reminiscence that threads through the whole record. The funny thing is, it works (like so many American pop songs do) even for an English listener who has never attended a drive-in movie, or experienced any of the elements of small-town USA that LaMontagne vignettes in his lyric. It’s a daydream, a high summer tune for groovin’ the afternoon away:

I wanna be Brando in the Wild One
I wanna be somethin’ to someone
Cause nothin’ ever happens in this Town,
The same old crew, hangin’ around
Just waitin for some shit to go down
But we love our Drive-in Movies

Now I’m grown, kids of my own, I never thought I could be a Dad
Me and my girl, we’re going strong, still the best friend that I ever had

Now I know all the things that I didn’t know
I got smokes, but I buy em’ now, I guess I’m old
Drive-in’s just an empty lot that no one mows
I miss those Drive-in Movies

As the last notes of this last song fade out I press rewind and start all over again, listening to the perfect summer soundtrack.

Where’re you going Rusty James?
So rumble on miles and change
What you doing Betty Sue?
She says “whatcha thinking?”

I’m coming with you
I’m coming with you
I’m coming with you

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