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A Lover's Lament with an Unsentimental Heart

Ray LaMontagne's debut album sold a quarter of a million copies and inspired almost as many Van Morrison comparisons.
Ray LaMontagne's debut album sold a quarter of a million copies and inspired almost as many Van Morrison comparisons.

Just two albums into his career, Ray LaMontagne's story has already taken on the patina of myth: Grave and soulful and mesmerizingly weird, LaMontagne was a bearded folksinger living in a cabin in the Maine woods until the left-field success of his 2004 debut (the pared-down, bluesy Trouble) helped drag him into civilization.

Trouble sold a quarter of a million copies and inspired almost as many Van Morrison comparisons. LaMontagne's new sophomore album, which shores up his six-string folk with judiciously dispersed strings and horns, sounds only slightly like it. LaMontagne is one of those artists for whom gloominess is an avocation — he takes being serious seriously — and the added instrumentation eases the load. Till The Sun Turns Black is in many ways darker and more mournful than its predecessor, but it feels lighter.

"Gone Away From Me," with its horns and ukuleles and sorrowful chorus, serves as the disc's most unabashedly retro track, the sort of thing Morrison might have listened to while writing "Caravan." LaMontagne has an open wound of a voice that suggests hidden depths of heartbreak, but he's a gimlet-eyed songwriter. Like much of his best work, "Gone Away From Me" is shrewder than it sounds: It's a deceptively simple lover's lament with an unsentimental heart.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Allison L. Stewart
Allison Stewart is a writer living in New York. It's entirely possible to see her work in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, No Depression, Rolling Stone or any number of other places. Or to miss it entirely, which is just as likely.