Beneath the crusty-mountain-man exterior and the surly attitude toward the entertainment business, Ray LaMontagne wants you to like him. Nobody puts on a vintage wool vest and porkpie hat like that without trying to make you envision old Woodstock and all the back-to-the-hearth simplicity that comes along with it.
Now it should be noted that Dylan crash-landed in Big Pink to escape his celebrity — not to create it. But why give poor Ray such a hard time? The guy has an astounding, sepia-toned voice, one with the world-weariness of Robert Johnson, the mute faithfulness of Little House on the Prairie's Michael Landon, and even the brooding cool of James Dean.
Yes, on occasion, everything that's good and pure about LaMontagne's quest to get back to all of life's Carolinas gets tangled up in genre aping (the New-Orleans-blues-man shtick of "Repo Man") and flat arrangements. His simple songs come closer to eclipsing their clichés and becoming classics when they aren't buttered with dobro and pedal-steel arrangements that sound like afterthoughts. But when you're allowed to get close to the raw artist, you witness something truly special — the staid "Beg, Steal or Borrow," or the wonderfully winsome "Like Rock & Roll Radio." The album is worth buying for the scenery alone, with enough mountains and sunsets to pull you out of your city-kid glibness.