I've been listening to this album quite a bit as of late. I didn't care much for it the first couple of times I'd heard it. I'm a pretty big fan of his first album, Trouble (you know, with the exception of "How Come", which sounded like he was trying to write a new Buffalo Springfield song or something). The reason I liked that album so much was because there were some absolutely gorgeous songs on it. The entire album was so stripped down...it sounded like he recorded it in his bedroom (probably while crying, but who knows). Songs like "Narrow Escape" (Killed ourselves a woman, that's all), "Burn", "Hannah", and "Jolene" made me fall in love with this album. The songs were so heartbreaking, so soft...I couldn't help but love it. (Apparently I have a thing for sad songs and books. Sharon seems to think it's because I'm generally a happy person, so I need something to balance it out. That makes pretty good sense, I think.)
So imagine how happy I was when I heard he had a new one coming out. "Oh man", I said to myself, "if it's half as good as Trouble, this could be one of the best albums of the year."
Then I listened to it. Oh, how disappointed I was. An opening keyboard line? Electric guitar and bass? Guitar and flute solos in a 6 minute song? Drums everywhere you look? Am I listening to the new Ray LaMontagne or Devendra Banhart?
Alas, it was Ray LaMontagne...
A couple songs seemed promising to me. "Can I Stay?" and "Lesson Learned" reminded me of some of the songs off of Trouble. "Now, if he just do another album with songs like this, he'd be in business".
But still, I wasn't able to give up on it. "Maybe I'm missing something." So I kept listening. By the third or fourth time I forgot what I didn't like about it. Sure, it doesn't sound like Trouble...but isn't that a good thing? Do I want great artists to keep repeating their previous work instead of moving forward?
No. But wht I wanted was this: a progression from Trouble...but a slow one. Not a huge change all at once. I wanted a couple instruments at a time to be added...maybe by his 4th album he'd be ready to go all "hippie rock" (as I proclaimed as I listened to this album for the first time) on us.
The more I listen to this album, the more I love it. And the more I love it, the more I'm glad that, ultimately, artists have control of their work and not me. Because I can guarantee you that, had he released Trouble, Part 2, I would've loved it for about 2 weeks, then said to myself, "Man, I wish he would've done something different."
Long story short: this album is great (or, as the Mayor of the Altered State of Drugachussetts would say, "I declare this album to be...awesome!"). If you liked Trouble, it may take you a little bit to get into. But, if you've never listened to Trouble, or didn't care too much for it, give this album a shot. He has now added great muscianship to his already amazing songwriting. Keep up the good work, Ray...I'm sorry I ever doubted you.
Essential Tracks: "Empty", "Three More Days", "Can I Stay", "Till the Sun Turns Black"
Current Favorite Track: "Lesson Learned"