Hippo Manchester
December 15, 2005

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CD Reviews: Ray LaMontagne, Live from Bonnaroo 2005 (EP)

RCA Records, 2005

B-

I wouldn’t call myself a Ray LaMontagne fan, exactly.

What I’d heard — “Trouble” a thousand times in a week when it was released last year — was fine enough. He’s a New Hampshire native, but his Web site says his family was only “passing through.” So that’s a point for him.

This six-song live recording makes me like the guy more. It’s not fantastically slick or embarrassingly stripped-down, and his occasional banter with the audience sounds genuinely flattered to have fans there. “Trouble” is a little more swingy than on the album of the same name, and Ray sounds more comfortable with it and his band. The other radio song, “Forever My Friend,” is similarly represented.

The only other musicians on the CD are drummer Larry Ciancia and upright bassist Chris Thomas, so some reinterpretation of the songs was inevitable, but the essence of each is still there, along with a good deal of the arrangement. In other words, rather than take advantage of the stoned-out hippies in attendance (judging by the CD’s cover, anyway) by phoning in a performance, he did right by ‘em and sang his heart out. Good dooby.

There’s one new song on the CD, a neo-bluegrass ditty called “Empty.” It’s probably no coincidence that this track gets the best production. Ray also goes a little Dylan with a harmonica solo. The stoned-out hippies seem to like it. 

— John “jaQ” Andrews