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Damn the weather, LaMontagne proves more powerful

Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, June 1, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Neither heavy rain, nor bolts of lightning or loud bangs of thunder were going to halt Ray LaMontagne. Well, they did in terms of pushing the start of his exquisite set back a bit, but when it came to the music, no problem.

LaMontagne came down from his Maine perch to dish out a meaty set of great songs, differing melodies and a tremendous amount of quiet energy that made you forget about the goings on elsewhere in the atmosphere.

LaMontagne ventured onstage alone with acoustic guitar in hand, dishing out Like Rock & Roll and Radio from his excellent, country-based "God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise" CD from August 2010. His stellar band - the Pariah Dogs - came out after that for Hold You in My Arms and a bunch more with twangy guitar and pedal steel dominating.

The new CD pervaded the set with LaMontagne playing 8 of the 10 songs from the release. While more rootsy on previous CDs, the new music has a definitive country edge to it. LaMontagne certainly proved comfortable with that and also covered Mama Tried by one of his musical heroes, Merle Haggard, with an assist on backing vocals from opening act The Secret Sisters.

LaMontagne also demonstrated a facility with blues-based sounds, taking out his harp a few times, but more importantly laying it down vocally on songs like Devil's in the Jukebox and Three More Days.

LaMontagne smartly picked a great backing band. Eric Heywood on pedal steel, Greg Leisz on guitar and occasional pedal and lap steel , drummer Joey Bellarose and Jennifer Condos on bass were exquisite throughout. Simply put, these guys can play. They did not rest on their resumes.

LaMontagne remained true to his reputation of not being much of a talker. His pet phrase was "Thank you very much. Thank you." He said it so many times that less would be more. Either figure out something a bit more exciting to say (he did say towards the end of the regular set before launching Jolene that "every show surprises me how there's still an audience for songs") or maybe a few less "thank you very much. Thank you" comments would be just fine.

Yet LaMontagne's songs, singing and band easily more than made up for that shortfall. Good thing that LaMontagne could be counted on no matter what the weather - in buckets.

LaMontagne was not the only worthy performer this evening. The Secret Sisters belied their name once again with another good outing. The duo - Laura and Lydia Rogers - were onstage alone, well, save for a guitar they traded back and forth.

The Alabama natives have done exceedingly well for themselves landing a bunch of excellent tour slots (Willie Nelson, Amos Lee) and were up to the task on this night. Both sang lead and offer backing harmonies and blend quite well.

The Rogers sisters tended to cover the songs of others, although they turned in a fine performance of River Jordan, one of several gospel numbers they played during their half hour. This one proved a bit special for them since they wrote it in Boston.

The Secret Sisters have a down home attitude and atmosphere to their music, and both served them well.

Middle act Brandi Carlile leaned more towards a pop edge than the country spicings of the bookends. Performing on her 30th birthday, Carlile claimed, "I'm keeping it together," although she seemed to be doing a lot more than that during her time.

Carlile has had a few hits during her time (particularly the lively song, The Story), but this wasn't a performance built around that.

Carlile offered a slew of sturdy songs in what seemed like a short set (maybe due to the weather). She also fit in with LaMontagne and The Secret Sisters for at least one song, performing Nelson's Crazy. Carlile breathed life into the chestnut of a song, saying she and her mom often argued over the merits of Patsy Cline who sang it, versus Tammy Wynette.

Carlile fittingly closed her set with a cover of Alphaville's Forever Young. Turning 30 really wasn't so bad. Neither was this night of music.