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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Gigs - Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs - Bridgewater Hall

Star rating – 7/10

Call me selfish but I think it’s always a shame when one of your favourite artists goes off the boil a bit when they find happiness in their personal life, and consequently lose the tortured part of their soul that produced their best musical moments. Whether it is the alleged upturn in the area of romance, or the newly found success via winning a Grammy award, something is going a bit too right with Ray LaMontagne for my liking.

It’s true he was never a performer who felt particularly at home baring his soul to his audience, which is ironic as some of the most beautiful and haunting songs from his first couple of albums do just that, you can almost feel his heart breaking or his anger and frustration pounding through the chords. But these days he is employing his rich and powerful voice in slightly rockier numbers more oriented to his band, the Pariah Dogs, playing on an equal billing with him. His latest CD, ‘God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise, is a case in point, with tracks such as ‘Repo Man’, and ‘Like Rock and Roll and Radio’ good but not as great as his past glories.

He only played a couple of his slower more heartfelt ballads, such as Shelter, Trouble, and the fabulous, fabulous Jolene. They were great but not enough to leave me fully satisfied I’m afraid. I just hope he changes direction again soon or finds a bit more heartache to inspire the dizzy searing heights of his craft that I expect from him – if that doesn’t sound just too awful.

He was certainly in a very chatty mood tonight, at least by his painfully shy standards, when he wasn’t hiding behind his big hat and bigger beard that is. He even joked about seeing the English sunshine at last after two weeks on tour over here.

Now I don’t usually comment on support acts but I am going to make an exception here, partly to give credit to Ray LaMontagne for being so generous to the artists whom he picks to accompany him on tour, and partly to give worthy praise to a great new act. The Secret Sisters are a wonderful duo of real life young sisters from Alabama, who bemoan the lack of old style proper country music in America. The aim to set that right with a mix of covers of classics like Hank Williams’ ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, and Johnny Cash’s ‘Big River’; together with self penned numbers that show real promise such as ‘Tennessee Me’. They have beautiful lilting voices that mesh together very harmoniously, and have just released their first eponymously titled CD, which is produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett. Ray was also generous enough to have them on stage with him during his set for four numbers, and his voice accompanied by theirs was a great mix. It’s very refreshing for a main artist to be so genuinely giving.

I started this review with a moan, so allow me the indulgence of finishing with one too, not about the lovely Ray this time, but about the clowns to the left of me and jokers in front who insisted on taking pictures and recordings more or less the whole way through the gig on their iPhones and digital cameras. Not so much David Bailey eat your heart out as – if you carry on with that shenanigans I’ll wrap the bloody things round your neck….sorry just had to get that out of my system. Feel better already.

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