Loose, eclectic and deeply emotional, God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise, Ray LaMontagne's fourth studio album is a sturdy display of his peerless talent. That sandpaper-and-bourbon voice grabs hold from the shuffling opening track, Repo Man, and conveys oceans of pain and/or longing throughout these 10 songs.
Most impressively, the Pariah Dogs -- the backing band (effectively his touring band) LaMontagne assembled for this project -- lend extraordinary depth and texture to the singer-songwriter's already immersive works. Knocked out in two weeks at LaMontagne's rural home studio, country and blues flourishes bleed through nearly every track here; it's the purest expression and appreciation of vintage craft yet rendered by this avowed fan of '70s songsmiths.
Although shades of morose introspection tend to dominate much of Rise, there are certain moments -- the exquisite agony of Are We Really Through, a guaranteed go-to break-up ballad for generations to come -- where LaMontagne shakes off the sadness, to thrilling effect. Album closer Devil's in the Jukebox evokes an early morning party with dawn breaking just over the ridge, the possibility that better days for this poet of perpetual gloom might be right around the corner. By turns devastating and unbearably beautiful, God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise is one of the year's finest efforts.
(***** Five out of five stars)