It's ironic that the first Ray LaMontagne album to list a band's name on the cover is also his first solo flight. God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise is his fourth full-length, but it is the first without producer Ethan Johns -- LaMontagne helmed the session at his home studio and it is mostly a loose, laid-back affair with a couple of exceptions. The Pariah Dogs -- bassist Jennifer Condos, guitarists Eric Heywood and Greg Leisz, and drummer Jay Bellerose -- have recorded and/or toured with him previously. The opener, "Repo Man," is the album's wild card. Introduced by a popping upright bassline, it's a gritty funk number that's totally out of place with the rest of what's here. Bellerose plays tight breaks, the guitars roil and coil, and LaMontagne's protagonist indicts a former lover, spitting out lyrics in a grainy, swaggering growl. The album changes direction abruptly on "New York Is Killing Me." It's a sad country song whose title reveals a longing for somewhere else as Leisz's pedal steel guitar twins with LaMontagne's world-weary voice. The title track is a love letter from a cattle driver to his beloved back at home. Bellerose's deeply tuned snare and tom-toms are balanced by two pedal steels underscoring the otherworldly loneliness in the grain of LaMontagne's voice. "Beg Steal or Borrow" is a midtempo shuffle that exhorts a younger man to just go; to fulfill his dreams at any cost. Two broken love songs -- "Are We Really Through" and "This Love Is Over" -- seem to echo the sentiments in "Repo Man," albeit far more gently. Both are skeletal and moody; the latter touches on the soul balladry LaMontagne's known for, but with a jazzy touch in the guitars. It's the best cut here. "Old Before Your Time" is the brother to "Beg Steal or Borrow": it reveals the consequences -- perhaps to the man in the mirror -- if the admonitions in the previous tune are not adhered to. "For the Summer" feels like loosely composed filler. The overly long "Like Rock and Roll Radio" stretches a metaphor to its breaking point and a tired beyond. "Devil's in the Jukebox," an uptempo country stomper adorned with reverbed snare, kick drum, LaMontagne's wailing harmonica, and Leisz's resonator slide guitar and mandola, redeems the album somewhat at its close. God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise is a mixed bag. There's fine stuff here to be sure, but as a whole, it feels unbalanced; too much of one sound makes it drag a bit. Given that this is his debut as a producer, it's not unexpected; but after his previous trio of fine recordings, this one feels anticlimactic.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek