There’s no question about it; genre hybrids are in. These days, what’s a good metal tune without some rap? What’s a good techno tune without some boy band vocals in the chorus? But hybrids don’t always have to be such outlandish pop-chart approximations. David Gray, in fact, proved with his brilliant White Ladder that folk mixes tastefully with techno, and that not everything has been done. All you need sometimes is some balls, and Dave Matthews to produce you.
But before David Gray opened for Matthews and catapulted his career into the stratosphere of MTV permanence, David Gray sat in cold London rooms with his guitar and played for the lonely reels of his four-track recorder. On Shine, released in 1993, for example, Gray was folk to the bone. In that tradition of purist simplicity comes his current release, Lost Songs.
The album, compiled from sessions that spanned from 1995-1998, plays best under dim light. It is the perfect going-to-bed album, which is not to say that it doesn’t hold up, just that you won’t find any sort of foot thumping “Babylon” anywhere within its play time. Full of ballads and lamentations, the album can be best understood as a good record that doesn’t fit logically into his artistic progression. More than anything else, it is a reversion to the poetically acoustic, pre-Matthews David Gray.
But Lost Songs isn’t meant to fall right into the groove. It’s meant to be a little to the side of that, and flaunt Gray’s multi-dimensional talents. It’s beautiful because it’s plain. And it works because it reflects the many places he’s been, both mentally and musically, for the better part of the last decade.
The album’s appeal comes coupled with the fact that it spans some incredibly pivotal years in Gray’s recording career. His artistic frustrations in “Red Moon” come to the fore: “I’m tired of being denied/ Of saying the same old things.” In “As I’m Leaving,” though, overtones of his musical evolution abound: “As I’m leaving, a change comes on my eyes/ these streets persuading me with mumbles and strange goodbyes.” And even some truly uplifting moments occur on the plush instrumental, “January Rain,” and the album’s concluding “A Clean Pair of Eyes.”
Lost Songs shows several things. First, it shows that David Gray isn’t scared of facing his roots and trying them out on his new audience. Second, it shows that Gray is clearly working on a concurrent project, into which he’ll be putting all the new tricks he’s learned in the pop world. He threw this out as a taster before his follow-up to White Ladder just so we wouldn’t forget his voice while he’s in the studio. But the truth is, some of this stuff is actually damn good.
Archived article by Ari Fontecchio