Ray LaMontagne

Ray LaMontagne titled his sixth album, Ouroboros (RCA, March 4, 2016 ), after an ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. The new LP is his second straight collaboration with a kindred spirit. Prior to teaming up with James, he’d joined forces with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys on Supernova. What the two albums have in common is a radical expansion of the standard singer/songwriter’s palate to encompass Floydian dreamscapes and supercharged bursts of electric guitar but beyond these parallels, Ouroboros is a very different animal from its predecessor. LaMontagne plays electric guitar leads and rhythm throughout the album, while James provides additional rhythm and some harmony vocals. They’re joined by Dan Dorff on keys and vibes, Kevin Ratterman on Moog and Dave Givan on drums, all James regulars, as well as multi-instrumentalist Seth Kaufman, the lone carryover from the Supernova sessions, on bass and slide. The musical organism LaMontagne conjured up at home and perfected in James’ La La Land studio may be “ one thing,”  as he puts it, but he was able to delineate and name the chapters of the narrative. “Artistically, I would’ve loved for it to simply say Part One and Part Two and have it play down that way,”  he explains, “ but I was trying to put myself in the place of the listener in a practical sense. I mean, the sections sort of make themselves known; one melodic part could be separated from the next melodic part or grouping.” Ouroboros opens with “ Homecoming,”  in which the protagonist is called upon to rouse himself from the tranquility of his surroundings and pull away from the place where he wants to be the most. It proceeds with the agitated inner dialogue of “Hey, No Pressure”  (the designated single), the tension ratcheting up with the turbulent “Changing Man/While It Still Beats,” which climaxes with an electrifying extended instrumental section, taking the listener to the end of Part One of the tale.  Part Two, which opens with “In My Own Way,”  as the weary traveler returns home (“Lock the door. / Draw the shade,”  it begins. “ Close my eyes. / I’m miles away.” ) is a seamless reverie, awash in sensory detail, as he grounds himself and revels in the beauty of his surroundings in the company of those he loves most. “ Spring is here, then spring is past,” he sings in a near-whisper. “ The sounds of summer settle in, / A snake slips through the grass.”  These intimations of the metaphysical in the natural world, echoing Blake and Wordsworth, Thoreau and Whitman, play out within the album’s thematic centerpiece, “Another Day.”  It’s followed by the idyllic instrumental “A Murmuration of Starlings,”  setting up the final section, an aural daydream that turns on the couplet, “When I’m with you / I am right where I belong,” and concludes, playfully yet resonantly, “You’re never gonna hear this song on the radio, but wouldn’t it make a lovely photograph?”