When you listen to the first track of Ray LaMontagne’s latest album, Gossip in the Grain, you hear a fantastic anachronism. It’s a tune that leaps out at you with a blatting horn section and a rich layer of passionate lyric. It grabs ahold of you and makes you wonder if you accidentally popped in a Marvin Gaye disc from the 50’s. It definitely doesn’t sound like 2008, nor does it sound like the creative output of our most famous folk troubadour from the Maine countryside…
Ray LaMontagne continually taps into the greatness of decades past without paying tribute to it. He swims in the vein of Motown and soulful folk music… all genres that sprung up in the past, and still sound better than most music being created today.
Why is this?
Why do I hear “You Are The Best Thing” (The aforementioned leadoff track to “Gossip…”) and feel I’m listening to the jackpot of musical greatness in 2008? Here’s the thing: I did not live through the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s. I never breathed a single breath of air under JFK’s presidency, and don’t know what Woodstock was like. I have no sense of nostalgia for the music of the 60’s and 70’s, but I still prefer the musical styles that typify those eras.
The latest successes of Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Adele, John Legend, and Alicia Keys also speak to this point. It would seem that the musical DNA of soul music is truly timeless, and is able to endure without historical context or the “when-I-was-your-age” nostalgic rants of middle-agers.
Maybe the greatness of soul music is a universal truth.