There's so much space and sweep in singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne's music, it's a wonder he doesn't perform with orchestras more often.
Last night, when LaMontagne played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore, it was only the second time he's had an orchestra behind him (the first was earlier this year at the Hollywood Bowl). Tonight, LaMontagne and the BSO will perform at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
Aside from a few miscues, it was a fluid showcase of LaMontagne's compelling body of work.
If you've heard LaMontagne's breathy, sandpapery voice, chances are, you either love it or hate it. Whether whispered or howled, LaMontagne's voice seemed to hang in the air last night in the gorgeous Strathmore hall.
Arranger and conductor David Campbell (whom you may recognize as the father of Beck) led the BSO through a few classical pieces, including John Adams' "Shaker Loops" and "The Unanswered Question" by Charles Ives, before LaMontagne took the stage. The works were adventurous and accessible without being patronizing; it was clear Campbell knew his audience.
After a brief break, LaMontagne, looking ever the mountain man with his beard, dark hair white button-down and vest, emerged with a three-piece band (drums, bass and guitar).
The 80-minute performance was a tour through LaMontagne's three albums, touching on hits and album cuts alike ...
The only notably absent song was "Three More Days," the single from his sophomore album "Till the Sun Turns Black."
A reclusive, enigmatic artist, LaMontagne usually has little interaction with the audience, and last night was no exception. He rarely spoke to the crowd, except a few soft "thank yous" and a brief appreciation for the BSO. Of course, that didn't keep concertgoers from yelling appreciations such as "We love you Ray!" between songs.
The BSO's lush strings gave many of LaMontagne's songs extra breadth and depth. The brass section sounded rigid on "Hey Me, Hey Mama," a song that's built on New Orleans swing. But overall, the BSO meshed well with LaMontagne's music. The BSO tacked an instrumental outtro onto "Till The Sun Turns Black," which flowed smoothly into "Gossip int he Grain."
LaMontagne's own band was incredibly tasteful. Drummer/percussionist Jay Bellerose handled LaMontagne's material with considerable finesse, and the other players eschewed solos in favor of warm fills.
LaMontagne closed out the show with "Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)," an upbeat bluesy piece which saw LaMontagne hissing and hollering into the mike and sawing on a harmonica. The song showed just how versatile LaMontagne's voice can be -- he led an orchestra through a night of songs that swooned and stomped, rarely missing a beat.
Be Here Now
Hold You In My Arms
Let It Be Me
Hey Me, Hey Mama
You Can Bring Me Flowers
Till the Sun Turns Black
Gossip in the Grain
You Are the Best Thing
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)