Listen to EMPTY by Ray LaMontagne.
Jason dropping in.
I'd heard of Ray. Picked up on him around the edges. And then came, of all things, a TV commercial - not a commercial endorsing a product (like Norwegian singer Ane Brun's ice-kissed cover of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colours" for cable company Sky in England) - but a commercial for an album. The song was "Trouble"* (which went on to be a top 5 single in the UK - but don't let that fool you).
By the time I'd got some tracks, I was watching him live at the Hammersmith Apollo.
I've written before of Bon Iver; Justin Vernon retreated to the woods to write his magic but Ray feels like he'd never left them. I also knew he wasn't much of a talker, for interviews or live on stage.
And so Marie and I sat down at the Apollo. Clearly, others knew his reputation as well. There was an expectant silence as he entered, eyes down, picking through the acoustic walk that begins Be Here Now. It was a beautiful start.......and his next song was "Empty".
Ray's voice will be the first thing that will get you. And then maybe you'll notice the lyrics:
She lifts her skirt up to her knees......an innocent image brilliantly, and perhaps unintentionally, constructed (depending on whether you choose to think of a comma before the word "laughing").
walks through the garden rows
with her bare feet laughing
But this man chooses "instead to dwell in my disasters". We begin to move through Ray's landscape of an "old and rusted Cadillac" sinking into a field, "collecting rain". He is "weary" amidst the blaze of "cut-throat busted sunsets", and can only ask:
Will I always feel this way?If he spoke through his "cracked and dusty dime-store lips", would anyone hear?
So empty, so estranged?
My very first post on this blog was a haunting song of existential emptiness. That song was of a man facing into his own insignificance. This is a similar song of hollowness -he wonders if he spoke through his "cracked and dusty dime-store lips" whether anyone would hear. He can only numb himself with hidden hurt as the love of a simple woman (with flowers in her hair and a "country mouth so plain") goes unanswered. The tapping of the rain on leaves sounds to him like "they're applauding us", but all he can do is stare into the eyes of his demons, baring his chest and challenging them to "do your best and destroy me", admitting that even then:
I've been to hell and back so many timesFor those of you listening to the mp3, you're missing one vital ingredient. Ray ditched the strings for a pedal-steel guitarist. This is how it was:
I must admit you kinda bore me
Ray seemed uncomfortable about acknowledging us, the audience, in Hammersmith.......he spoke few words, but when he did the audience held its breath.........and this song I will never forget....
Photo: Butterfly Paradise. London Zoo. 2008. Taken by Jason Bryant.