UNBROKEN CHAIN

It was very hot at the Newport Folk Festival this year, the seminal event held annually in Newport, Rhode Island, where Bob Dylan famously plugged in and pissed everyone off in 1965. These days, it isn’t as folky as it used to be, but it is still a great festival. Anyway, it was hot and there was no shade, and while I dig folk music and well-delivered country & western music, eight hours of it can start to wear on a man. I knew that Ray LaMontagne was coming up next, and was wondering how I was going to handle another artist who sits in a folding chair and plays acoustic guitar wearing a flannel shirt, accompanied by banjos and dulcimers and mandolins.

The New Hampshire-born LaMontagne burst on the scene in 2004 with his soulful hit album/single, Trouble, and has made a name for himself with albums like Gossip in the Grain and God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise (there can’t be an album title more folky than that). He’s won a Grammy, his songs are all over the place, he has a massive amount of fans, and the guy is doing all right for himself playing the part of an adult alternative troubadour. Still, eight hours of folk music down, I’m not sure I can handle any more beards and ballads about farmers.

And then Ray LaMontagne waltzed out, with a full band (a good sign for me) and tore into a song from his latest album Ouroboros (definitely not a folk album title) called “Hey, No Pressure,” which features a great, fuzzy guitar lick and some well-layered organ work. It was loud as shit, and thousands of folks who were on the precipice of heatstroke instantly popped up from blankets and folding chairs and danced as if fully hydrated. LaMontagne’s set was full of energy and electrolytes. He spent the next 45 minutes tearing through songs from his two latest albums, 2014’s Supernova and his fantastic new release, sprinkling in a few earlier tunes. Why am I telling you about some concert that happened light years away from Jacksonville? Because LaMontagne is here this weekend. If you’re a fan of his earlier, more acoustic work, don’t worry — he’ll play some of that. But if you want to see a great, trippy, rock ’n’ roll show, you must go.

Ouroboros, which I guess is some sort of circle-of-life-snake-eating-itself-thing, is a concept album that plays more like an entire piece of music than a collection of individual songs of multiple themes (à la Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick and, of course, Pink Floyd’s The Wall). Per LaMontagne, he had no interest in releasing it any other way. On the closing track, “Wouldn’t It Make a Lovely Photograph,” he ends the album singing “Never gonna hear this song on the radio,” and he’s right, because radio wouldn’t be bold enough and our attention spans aren’t what they were 20 years ago.

While LaMontagne started to step in this direction with his previous album, Supernova, produced by Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame, he went further into the thermosphere with this one. Ouroboros ebbs and flows with a balance of wilting melodies and harmonies and jam-band riffs and LaMontagne’s unique, soulful-but-hushed vocals. Don’t worry; he still has that sweet-as-honey raspy baritone. Yet on Ouroboros, there are times when LaMontagne sounds as if an angel has throat-punched him. His band on this tour (another reason for you to go) is My Morning Jacket, minus Jim James (James produced the album). MMJ is the perfect backdrop for this endeavor, bringing their own psychedelic hippie thump to the album and show. Together, LaMontagne and the MMJ boys may have smoked a lot of weed while recording this gem. “Part Two-A Murmuration of Starlings,” which sounds like Pink Floyd just reunited, couldn’t have been written without drug enhancements. LaMontagne, a noted recluse (he lives in the Berkshire Mountains, owns a barn, and does some blacksmith work on the side) who comes off as uncomfortable in interviews — sometimes all over the place with his answers — doesn’t have the same issues on the stage. During his set in Newport, he was spot-on with every note, sweating out sincerity and soul while the band rode hard when they had to and backed off when required. Prior to this show, I thought of Ray LaMontagne as a talented singer/songwriter who took himself and his craft too seriously. After experiencing this set, I think of LaMontagne as an artist who makes whatever music he wants to make, and does it well. And if we like it, swell; if not, oh well … he stayed true to his vision. In this case, I liked it very much. And if you like awesome incredible music, you’ll like this, too.

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RAY LaMONTAGNE, 7 p.m. Aug. 14, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, $30-$59.50, staugamphitheatre.com

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