Getting ahold of the new Ray LaMontagne album, Monovision, is the aural equivalent of grabbing a handful of rich Southern soil. Monovision’s songs are earthen in instrumentation and tone, rooted in Lamontagne’s inimitable vocal and Carolinian geographical references. The melodies themselves are steeped in traditional approaches yet never dated, and Lamontagne’s vocal delivery serves as welcome company, as it has for the 16 years since he debuted with Trouble in 2004.
If anything, Monovision feels top to bottom like a foundational release for Lamontagne, one that best represents his artistic core. Previous works have stirred in psychedelia, invited further instrumentation (e.g., horns, strings), or emphasized his bluesier side, but Monovision strips away such interests or influences. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Lamontagne himself played every instrument on Monovision, a record he also produced and engineered.
Like the majority of Lamontagne’s catalog, the songs on Monovision are lively and/or lovely. “Roll Me Mama” opens the album with Lamontagne’s signature soulful vocal work set to a mid-tempo pace that sets the tone for Monovision well.
Autobiographical single “Strong Enough” calls out a deserting father for not being “strong enough” before asking a pointed question of himself. “Am I strong enough?” he sings, yet the straightforward strummer never loses its spirited pace, belying the unfolding narrative at work beneath the melody.
The electric flourishes on “I Was Born To Love You,” the driving acoustic approach of “Misty Morning Rain,” and the slight ’60s feel of “Weeping Willow” are all interesting highlights, yet none of them deviate far from the norms established from the outset.
Other albums in LaMontagne’s discography are more expansive or experimental, but fans have largely gravitated to him over the years for the very pillars on which Monovision sits — it’s an album that will satisfy his most loyal listeners.