Gray­ing grace­fully

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC - LAUREN MUR­PHY

Suc­cess can change a mu­si­cian, but it seemed to al­ter the ca­reer tra­jec­tory of David Gray more dras­ti­cally than most. Af­ter all, this was the young man whom Joan Baez re­port­edly called “the best lyri­cist since Dy­lan” af­ter hear­ing his 1993 de­but (A Century Ends); who slogged it out in UK and Ir­ish dives be­fore his fourth al­bum (the world­beat­ing White Lad­der) changed ev­ery­thing.

When Amer­i­can au­di­ences started to sit up and take no­tice, it was pretty much game over for Gray’s cred­i­bil­ity. Pre­sum­ably ter­ri­fied at the prospect of slip­ping into dadrock ter­ri­tory, he sig­nalled a de­sire, with 2010’s en­joy­able Foundling, to strip ev­ery­thing back af­ter the cheesy, overblown pro­duc­tion of the pre­ced­ing al­bums.

The ar­range­ments on Mu­ti­neers, Gray’s 10th al­bum, aren’t quite as sim­plis­tic, but they are han­dled in a more sym­pa­thetic, un­der­stated way. There’s a del­i­cacy to the gui­tar and strings on the ti­tle track and Last Sum­mer, while the in­tox­i­cat­ing re­ver­ber­a­tion of piano on stand­out song Beau­ti­ful Agony and the mourn­ful Birds of the High Arc­tic prove that you don’t need the au­ral equiv­a­lent of ex­plod­ing con­fetti can­nons to make a state­ment.

On the other hand, it seems that the in­clu­sion of the in­of­fen­sive MOR folk-rock Snow in Ve­gas in­di­cates that Gray re­mains mind­ful of his State­side au­di­ence, and a hand­ful of tracks are un­de­ni­ably more filler than killer. Still, clos­ing cou­plet Girl Like You and Gulls al­low him to in­dulge his ex­per­i­men­tal side. The for­mer is a stut­ter­ing ex­er­cise in acous­tic min­i­mal­ism, com­plete with en­joy­ably drawn-out pas­sages of jaz­zstyle drum­ming.

Yes, it may be dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile the fired-up 25-yearold of A Century Ends with the man be­hind Mu­ti­neers. But in many ways this al­bum acts as a ro­bust an­chor for a mu­si­cian still find­ing his de­ci­sive path.

Down­load: Beau­ti­ful Agony, Girl Like You


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