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Weather changes for LaMontagne, but quality doesn't

Prowse Farm (Life is Good Festival), Canton, Mass., September 25, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
One huge change from Ray LaMontagne's last visit to Boston was that the weather held up this time. A big time electrical storm on June 1 resulted in LaMontagne going on about 45 minutes later than planned. The rain held off at the Life is Good Festival and even though LaMontagne was again late through no fault of his own, the key thing that didn't change was the high quality of LaMontagne and his great backing band.

LaMontagne wasn't in Boston all that long ago, of course, so the set list wasn't all that different, although the order switched.

LaMontagne, who started late due to delays a bit earlier from other acts and a longer than expected set from the Levon Helm Band, once again started solo acoustic to the right side of the stage. This time, his song of choice was You Can Bring Me Flowers with his raspy voice in full display.

For 75 minutes, LaMontagne ran threw a bunch of very fine songs. He's a keen writer where his raspy voice infuses the material with the appropriate anguish as the Maine resident is not exactly a feel good source of material. He may be best known for Trouble thanks to its inclusion on a television commercial, but make no mistake that there is far far more to LaMontagne than a commercial.

LaMontagne has made a decided turn towards the country side. His choice of covers confirmed that - a mournful take on Merle Haggard's Mama Tried and The Byrds' Blue Canadian Rockies, from "Sweetheart of the Radio," which LaMontagne said "had a profound affect on me when I discovered it."

His feeling of despair was perhaps no more evident than on his take of New York's Killing Me, delivered slow and sad and like a true New Englander who has a lot of negativity towards the Big Apple.

LaMontagne was aided time and again by his Pariah Dogs backing band. Jay Bellarose on drums and Jennifer Condos on bass (she was onstage alone with LaMontagne for a few numbers), were a sturdy rhythm section. But perhaps even more important were the contributions of Eric Heywood on pedal steel/guitar and Greg Leisz on guitar/pedal steel. Flash was not part of their game, but both were excellent, often supplying the country and roots sounds to the material. Heywood, in particular, also contributed a lot of tasty guitar licks.

While it may been less than four short months since his last appearance, LaMontagne may only be getting better with time. And give him credit also for probably being about the only performer on this day who didn't say "life is good." Maybe that's LaMontagne's prism of viewing life, but if so, his music sure was good.

The former drummer for The Band may anchor the Levon Helm Band, but the band moniker is increasingly important. Helm certainly is a sturdy drummer, who ably propels the material ranging form his own to that of The Band, but this is now clearly more and more of a band concept.

The major difference over time is that Helm thankfully is given less and less singing to do. Unfortunately, that is a good thing and necessary because Helm's voice has significantly deteriorated over the last few years to the point that Helm's take on Ophelia was, well, not exactly a high point.

The band remains a potent force thanks to the playing and singing. Teresa Williams took most of the lead vocals and has a definitive country bent to her singing with a good reading of Long Black Veil Helms' daughter Amy also takes leads and helps on backing vocals.

Larry Campbell directs the band, mainly handling guitar chores and some vocals as well. Like the rest of the band, which includes folks like Howard Johnson on tuba, and a horn section, Campbell added a lot to the songs.

The Levon Helm Band may have changed a lot in the past few years, but ultimately it's for the better and makes for a more joyous concert experience.