Ten years ago Ray LaMontagne released his first album, Trouble, the gold-certified start to a fiercely ambitious, Grammy Award-winning, critically praised career that’s encompassed three more albums, several EPs, a slew of soundtrack compilations and arresting live performances fronting a variety of ensembles. And LaMontagne is still having fun all these years later - and with his fifth album, Supernova, maybe more fun than ever.
“Fun is a trite word. I kind of hate to use it - but at the same time, I don’t know how else to say it,” LaMontagne says of the 10-song set, which was produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and recorded at his Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville. Supernova indeed bursts with a spirited bonhomme and a rocking, technicolor-tinged energy that’s different from its four predecessors.
The title track and first single is a grooving, Nuggets-style burst of neo-psychedelia in which LaMontagne’s high register sounds hoarse with pleasure over the explosive power of love. “She’s the One” is a bold, punchy, swirling rocker, while “Lavender,” “Julia” and “Smashing” are soaked in lava lamp melodies and day-glo grooves. LaMontagne and the crack band Auerbach assembled for Supernova lay back into rustic, rootsy territory during “Ojai” and “Drive-in Movies,” while “Airwaves” rides a light samba rhythm and “No Other Way” is a love ballad replete with trippy images. And “Pick Up a Gun” is Supernova's noir epic, from its martial cadence to its airy ambience and lush keyboard textures.
“I know I was hearing certain different instrumentation - a sharper sound, a broader sound,” explains LaMontagne, who for the first time ever put together detailed, fully-rendered demos to give Auerbach “a sort of road map” of what he was after. “I sent him a note about the vocals, especially; ‘You’re going to hear my voice in a different place here.’ Usually its’ very round, very full, very up-front, and I wanted to sort of put them in a little bit of a different place this time and make them more a part of the overall sonic palette and not quite so in your ear as they’ve been in the past. I wanted my voice to be equally within the palette of colors and not be the focus.”
LaMontagne says he’s “never gone into the studio feeling as good about a batch of songs as I did with these,” and his enthusiasm was matched by Auerbach, who played guitar as well as produced, and the core band that included drummer Richard Swift, bassist Dave Roe, keyboardist Leon Michaels and multi-instrumentalist Seth Kaufman and Russ Pahl.
“It was really a very quick learning curve,” LaMontagne recalls. “I hadn’t met any of these guys before and didn’t know anything about them, so it took a little bit to get comfortable. But they were all really, really, really smart and everyone had ideas and was enthusiastic, and what really pleased me and kind of surprised me a little bit was how excited they were about the songs. They were really excited. They thought they were interesting, which made me feel even better about them.”
3. She's the One
4. Pick Up a Gun
6. No Other Way
10. Drive-In Movies