Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs begin God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise with a slow build-up based on a simple acoustic riff. The song is “Repo Man,” an intense opener to LaMontagne’s fourth album. Vocally, he really smolders on this song. His overall approach hasn’t changed, which is mostly good news for fans. Much of the album consists of wistful, melodic songs with thoughtful, meditative lyrics.
“New York City’s Killing Me” brings to mind Kris Kristofferson, particularly the sadness of his “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” The shimmering lead guitar work magnifies the country & western atmosphere that dominates the album. The title track opens with a yearning slide guitar before LaMontagne’s pained rasp enters, soaring above the band. Though the arrangement is simple, the production has a luxurious majesty that recalls George Harrison’s early work with Phil Spector. The opening trio of songs are so strong, the remaining ones don’t manage to register quite as strongly.
“This Love Is Over” is an easy listening ballad with jazzy shadings. While it provides a break from the album’s folky, countryish flavor, it also manages to be rather boring. Much better is the delicate melody of “For the Summer,” a slow song set against a pleasingly aggressive rhythmic backing. LaMontagne’s expressive vocal is one of his best on the album.
At times the album gets just a bit too relaxed. Arriving late in the ten song set, “Like Rock & Roll and Radio” meanders for just over six minutes. It doesn’t do very much to maintain interest during that time. Over the course of an album, LaMontagne’s breathy, high voice can get a little monotonous. He sounds so serious and weary, but nearly always restrained. Yet his thin voice isn’t really suited for some of his own material. The album closer “Devil’s In the Jukebox” features some bold harmonica playing and a thumping beat. But I would like to hear LaMontagne really cut loose vocally more often, the way he does on “Repo Man.”
God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise, whatever weak points it may have, upholds the high level of quality LaMontagne set for himself over his previous three releases.