Tuesday, June 24, 2008
A Letter to Ray LaMontagne
First off, I consider myself not only your fan, but your friend.
We've met once. You remember. It was at the Austin City Limits Music
Festival. It was 100 degrees outside and you were dressed in a
flannel shirt and jeans. I walked up to you and asked if you were Ray
LaMontagne, and you said, "Yes. Yes I am." You were watching Tristan
Prettyman, your future flame, perform. I asked you when you were
going to perform. You had no idea. I think we really hit it off.
I'm sure you remember the conversation like it was yesterday.
Due to our friendship, I think I owe you my honesty. And frankly,
with honesty comes some tough talk. So here it comes. Your last
album, Till the Sun Turns Black, was not very good. I'm sorry if that was
harsh. Your first album, Trouble, was unreal. It immediately slid
you into my top ten artists of all time. I could listen to Trouble
forever and not get sick of it. The songs are simple, classic,
emotional, raw. It was a classic album. Till the Sun Turns Black was
the exact opposite. It was over-produced. Your powerful voice was
somehow smaller. The normally raucous, powerful "Three More Days,"
sounded like elevator music. You turned the heartbreaking, hushed
"Can I Stay," into something that should be on a Zales commercial.
You where flannel shirts in 100 degree heat. You're a man who buys
hard packs of cigarettes and swings 9 pound hammers. Your music
shouldn't sound like a Zales commercial. And I don't even know what
to say about "Barfly;" what was that?
However, I have a solution. I'm going to tell you how to make your
next album. You need to follow these instructions word for word. You
can thank me later.
First, you need to get away from any type of studio. I need you to go
and rent a cottage on Prince Edward Island. Preferably on the
seashore. If there's a lighthouse around, that's even better. In
fact, if there's a lighthouse, you should probably record there, the
same way that Jim James of My Morning Jacket used to record in a grain
silo. In fact, that's not a bad idea. If there's a grain silo, get
yourself into one of those. You should take your pick-up truck (I'm
sure you own one) and pack in it these things: one beat-up guitar, a
four-track recording device, once violin, one trumpet. Maybe a
ukulele. No, leave the ukulele, that would be ridiculous. I don't
care who plays trumpet or violin, but it should probably be someone
from Calexico. Actually, it should be definitely be someone from Calexico…those fuckers know what they're doing. Nowhere on this album should you
have "lush orchestration." Your last album was filled with "lush
orchestration." Your first track should feature no instrumentation,
just your pipes; maybe a little guitar. Take a page out of Josh Ritter's book and listen to the song "Idaho." I want the guitar barely audible. You should title
it "Spokane." Please title the album "Can I Stay?" and re-record the
song "Can I Stay." Make it hurt this time.
That's it. Don't forget about the silo.
Author's Note: Apparently Ray did not listen to all of the advice I gave him, but if you go to his website, it'll tell you a little bit about his new album Gossip In The Grain set to drop (as the kids say) on Sept. 9th. I'm a huge fan of this "railroad blues" talk.