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Ray LaMontagne Takes A Smooth And Psychedelic Journey 'To The Sea'

Ray LaMontagne's new album, <em>Part of the Light</em>, comes out Friday.
Reid Long
Courtesy of the artist
Ray LaMontagne's new album, Part of the Light, comes out Friday.

Ray LaMontagne's music ought to be easy to pin down: He is, after all, a prolifically bearded, reclusive type with an acoustic guitar and an approachable voice. His music even dredges up familiar roots-music signifiers, from The Band-style ramblers to softly rendered ballads that recall Iron and Wine's Sam Beam. But LaMontagne's latest albums, 2016's Ouroboros and the new Part of the Light, both capture a creative vision considerably more ambitious than the sum of their parts.

Due out Friday, Part of the Light feels in part like an especially sprawling entry from the heyday of '70s singer-songwriters whose imaginations extended far beyond coffeehouse crooning. It takes all of 45 seconds for the album's opener, "To the Sea," to conjure a flood of reference points: a strummed guitar that brings to mind Nick Drake, a tabla, a rich and searching voice that meets at the midpoint between Iron and Wine and My Morning Jacket. But the song soon coheres into something of LaMontagne's own: a warm and intoxicating, psych-infused journey that settles the mind while expanding it at the same time.

Part of the Light comes out Friday via RCA.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)