What a treat Ray LaMontagne has become since I first saw him play the Beachland Ballroom four years ago. In 2005, we saw an extremely shy singer-songwriter with a mere 10 songs in his catalog. Since then, he’s penned more than 20 new tunes, thrown a few choice covers into the mix and expanded his stage presence with the addition of Jennifer Condos (on electric bass), Eric Heywood (on pedal steel and electric guitar) and Jay Bellerose (on drums) to form one barn-burner of a band.
The addition of a full group transformed LaMontagne from a "singer-songwriter" to a Rick Danko-esque “Band” leader who asks you to get out of your seat and dance. This was no more evident than on “Hey Me, Hey Mama,” where LaMontagne’s amazing vocals sounded eerily like the late Danko's.
Not to be outdone, LaMontagne’s band also exhibited flashes of brilliance — particularly guitarist Heywood. His pedal-steel work on “Empty” and his Dick Dale surf-rock intro on “Meg White” sounded like something straight out of a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.
But LaMontagne’s earlier songs were the real highlights. Trouble’s “Jolene” and “Burn” reminded me why I fell in love with his songs in the first place. And on the concert-closing “Shelter” and “Trouble,” the bearded recluse had an emotional effect on the audience, which he rode straight to a standing ovation. We all stood there, holding one another as “All the Wild Horses” sent us home. —Jeremy Hills