New England songwriter Ray LaMontagne
could have shaved the beard and set his sights on John Mayer's romantic-pop turf after Taylor Hicks covered his "Trouble" on American Idol.
Instead, on this year's Till the Sun Turns Black
, LaMontagne comes off whiskers be damned like a finely coiffed freak-folkie or Ryan Adams paying for jam-band sins with a repentant Heartbreaker
revision. His voice suggests Adams' warm, dry murmur, but his reverberant piano, Spanish guitar licks, liquid horn lines and puffy string swells recall mystical forefathers Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley. His sound is mellow and evanescent, almost to the point of evaporation, but fiercely whispered lyrics solidify his drowsy visions.