On his fifth studio LP, Supernova, soulful folkie Ray LaMontagne ditches his signature raspy vocal for an airy whisper that guides listeners through a kaleidoscope of lavender skies, twilight rides and cloudy seasides.
Many of the Grammy-winning singer's previous releases were gritty, grounded and focused on easing earthly realities with sleepy sentiments of love (Trouble, Hold You in My Arms). Produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Supernova is a bold, but successful, departure from that.
It's all very psychedelic, with a lot of bouncing drums that echo around spacey electric guitar effects. LaMontagne uses an ethereal call and playful lyrics to illuminate impulsive road trips, fields of clover and chasing after infatuations — all delivered through a gauzy starlit haze.
Auerbach's influences ooze all over album opener Lavender. A jam-band drumbeat and rattling electric guitar strums fortify LaMontagne's childlike metaphorical memories: "Back there, both of us without a care / Leaves of many colors blown through the air/ Free to play, as a child we ran / Through fields of clover / Reaching for the sun."
The album's title track delivers an upbeat ditty from a narrator who has a starry-eyed desire for a girl named Zoe. LaMontagne sings about their otherworldly connection through twinkling piano keys blended with rollicking drums and springy licks: "Yeah, that's what you are, you're a blazing star / That's what you are Zoe, you're so Supernova!"
A la Tom Petty's Americana vibe, the listener can almost hear the buzzing crickets and see the twinkling of lightning bugs flying around a movie marquee and parked cars on the album's closer, Drive-in Movies. It's deeply personal, romanticizing a destination from America's past that has faded with time along with the simple whims of LaMontagne's youth. Recently turned 40, he realizes: "Now I'm grown, kids of my own, I never thought I could be a dad / Now I know all the things that I didn't know / I got smokes, but I buy em' now, I guess I'm old / Drive-in's just an empty lot that no one mows / I miss those drive-in movies."
After a four-year hiatus since God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise, which won the 2010 Grammy for best contemporary folk album, Supernova makes the statement that the Massachusetts-based musician has no desire to be "the next best thing," to be an ephemeral phenomenon in today's pop-music industry.
Instead, Supernova is all about appreciating time and relishing the connections you make along the way, be it with an old friend, at the drive-in, on the highway or somewhere above the clouds.