"God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise," Ray LaMontagne's fourth album, is the first to utilize a billed backing band, The Pariah Dogs. It's also the first album the Northeast native has produced on his own.
Any singer-songwriter would fall over themselves to snare the talent that 37-year-old LaMontagne's enlisted -- drummer Jay Bellerose (Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Joe Henry), bassist Jennifer Condos (Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams), keyboardist Patrick Warren (Fiona Apple, Red Hot Chili Peppers), guitarist Eric Heywood (Son Volt, The Pretenders) and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz (Wilco, Beck). It's a session supergroup of sorts, with the predictable but welcome husky hum of a master singer's voice.
The result is what a live record should sound like, with the slaps of tambourine against the flesh of a palm, an accidental double bounce of a soft kick drum head, a wisp of accordion pulsing through the pocket. It's not a perfect record; it's a band record.
And it's good timing, too. "God Willing" dislodges LaMontagne from the single-note path that he was starting to tread, as good as that note may be. Like contemporaries Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and his newer recordings or Ryan Adams when he added the Cardinals, the hive-mind all serving the purpose of that voice gives LaMontagne some new directions.
The first half of the album is a showcase of just that, from the nah-uh blues-funk resilience of opener "Repo Man," to the cinematic exhalations of the title track. Insta-classic "Beg Steal or Borrow” is a country-hued song so natural, one needs only a pair of listens to know the words and melody by heart.
Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs' "God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise" will be released tomorrow (Aug. 17).