He's a strange fish, that Ray LaMontagne fella. Just when you think you have the measure of him, he comes out with an album that takes all your preconceptions and boots them solidly out the door.
Whereas both his debut album 'Trouble' and lesser-known follow-up 'Till the Sun Turns Black' were mostly melancholic, downbeat efforts, 'Gossip in the Grain' showcases several sides of the bearded troubadour you never would have thought existed.
Opening with 'You Are The Best Thing', the ten tracks are rarely repetitive and contain a singer eager to show versatility and something you previously wouldn't have associated with him, a bit of kookiness.
The opening tune hints at R&B, Soul and even Motown while never losing its exuberance throughout. Even if you think you haven't heard it, you probably have, it's that sort of thing you could be humming all day without even realising.
The only pity perhaps is that he never revisits these musical themes, his voice seems suited to it, and the musicians, made up of members of his touring band and producer gel as well on this as they do anywhere else.
Elsewhere, if there is ever an award for the most improbable ode to The White Stripes, 'Meg White' will probably be in the running. Complete with cheesy lyrics (Meg White/ Baby, you're the bomb/ Old Jack is great, don't get me wrong/ But this is your song) and a stomping White Stripes-esque rhythm with the sort of drumming Meg White trademarked, it's playful yet somehow endearing and ends up being more than just a novelty song.
Both 'Hey Me, Hey Mama' and 'Henry Nearly Killed Me, (It's a Shame)' are also high points, with both singer and band sounding like they're enjoying themselves way too much to care what the listener thinks.
The slower, introspective songs that you would come to expect from LaMontagne are mostly thoughtful, considered compositions. 'Sarah', written for his wife, is particularly beautiful; the song sounding like it comes from a different era with a distinct Astral Weeks feel to it.
It's only on 'Winter Birds' (at over six minutes it is by far the longest song on the album) that LaMontagne's navel-gazing begins to wear a bit thin, and you might find your finger wandering for the skip button.
Overall though, it's a small complaint for such an adventurous and ambitious album. ‘Gossip in the Grain’ not only confirms Ray LaMontagne’s fierce talent as a songwriter (if any confirmation was needed), it offers quite a lot to be excited about in the future.