Singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne gives his backing band equal billing on his fourth album, God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise, his first without longtime collaborator Ethan Johns. And the Pariah Dogs earn the honor in the extended instrumental introduction to the opener "Repo Man," which they fill with glowing, moody textures. They build a downright sexy head of steam that pushes LaMontagne into his usual breathless and raspy Joe Cocker territory. (The dude is expressive and soulful throughout, but his vocal mannerisms are starting to sound like a crutch at times.) For the rest of God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise, the band merely provides richer backgrounds for LaMontagne to frame his slow-burning songs. He often delivers catchy new twists on the form, but rare uptempo tracks like "Beg Steal or Borrow" make you wish he'd rock out a little more often.
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