God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise

After working with producer Ethan Johns on his first 3 albums Ray Lamontagne strikes out on his own, to a degree. Lamontagne takes the production reins; saddled up next to him is his very able supporting band, The Pariah Dogs, Greg Leisz, Jay Bellerose, Eric Heywood, Ryan Freeland, and Jennifer Condos. Settled into the studio at his newly renovated Western Massachusetts home, Lamontagne and the band created an album that finds its roots in rural atmospheres. The album also reveals a strong country music bent with occasional string arrangements sneaking into the session.

The opening track, “Repo Man” is a grunge driven groove with a live unadulterated sound. Don’t be fooled by that track, it’s not indicative of the rest of the album. This a relaxed, mostly ballad tempo record with lots of melancholy reflections. Lamontagne introduces an undercurrent theme on the album’s second track; “New York city’s Killing Me” laments urban life which he perceives as lacking humanity. Many songs find Lamontagne yearning for the country life with nature acting as a metaphor for security.

As on earlier albums, the bulk of Lamontagne’s music are love songs, often concerning the struggles of relationships as on “Are We Really Through,” “This Love Is Over,” and “Like Rock And Roll Radio.” God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise also explores another type of personal examination. “Beg Steal Or Borrow” and “Old Before Your Time” explore youthful ambitions and the regret they engender in later life. The first track features a subtle string arrangement that hangs at the fringe of the song while the latter chugs along to banjo and acoustic guitar.

The Pariah Dogs are a fine crop of musicians. Greg Leisz’s resume goes back twenty years, playing Pedal Steel on k.d. lang’s early recordings and many others since. Eric Heywood also plays Pedal Steel and electric guitar. His credits include stints with Kathleen Edwards, Calexico, and The Jayhawks. Jay Bellarose is T.Bone Burnett’s go-to drummer and his unique rhythms are enhanced by the found objects he places on his drum skins to induce extraneous sounds. Jennifer Condos is another veteran who’s played with a wide range of artists including Marc Cohn and Sam Phillips. Leisz, Condos, and Bellarose have played together often so the comfort level between musician allows for an easy exchange of instruments.

“Devil’s in the Jukebox” is the album’s last track and the upbeat jam is a nice bookend for the opening track. It’s the tracks in between that drive home that striving force that looks to over come the obstacles that life lays before us, the very kind that inspire the phrase that defines the album, God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)