label: ATO Records
our score: 4.0 out of 5.0
How does one
describe David Gray? He's Irish. He defines the cliché "indie."
And his fourth album, White Ladder, may be the most beautiful
quintuple-platinum record you've never heard of.
With a mixture
of subtle, pseudo-techno beats, piano and acoustic guitar, Gray
strings together an unlikely marriage of genres to brew a cup
of emotion that has already spent five weeks quenching the musical
thirst of Europe atop the Irish Top 30.
it helps to have friends. With a hand from indie-friendly rock
superstar Dave Matthews, Gray has made the all-important trip
across the Atlantic. After his band toured alongside Gray in the
States, Matthews, who calls Gray "beautiful in the purest and
most honest way," signed him to his fledgling ATO Records in order
to give the Welsh musician a foothold in America.
released in Europe in November '98, White Ladder comes
to Yankee listeners with an additional two tracks and a bonus
enhanced CD feature that includes a 12-minute video of live concert
Freddy Jones Band, acoustic Dave Matthews and Milwaukee native
Willy Porter, Gray's songwriting talent is evidence that not everyone
is as wrapped up in bubblegum pop craze as America. With songs
that range in subject matter from excess and cynicism ("My Oh
My") to a sense that everything is going to be okay ("Silver Lining")
Gray shows that love isn't the only emotion that can make a heartfelt
voice would make him a natural at singing country songs of loss
and regret. When wrapped around the "live-for-today" lyrics that
color the majority of Ladder's songs, however, it grins with a
bittersweet happiness that belies any comprehension of the end
of the honeymoon. Though supported by everything from violin to
piano, Gray's raspy vocals take a confident step forward and make
a good case for ditching the musical accompaniment altogether.
Such a claim, however, would falsely suggest a musical inferiority,
and Gray's ghostly acoustic guitar makes its presence known through
subtlety and timing.
two minutes into the album's first song, "Please Forgive Me,"
before Gray's plucking turns an introspective piano-based ballad
into a playful affirmation of love. As soon as it appears, it
fades again and makes the listener wonder if it was ever there
to begin with. At times, however, the drum machine is turned off,
the piano is pushed aside, and Gray is left alone with his guitar.
In songs like
"My Oh My," Gray's voice and guitar playfully jab at each other
for prominence, and the result is a beautiful sparring contest.
Never quite able to outdo one another, the counterparts balance
the scale between his voice's somber pleadings and the guitar's
to be seen whether Matthew's attempt at bringing Gray a commercial
breakthrough in the States will work. Regardless of what help
he has received, however, Gray's music exhibits a wistful beauty
that more than allows him to support himself.
liked White Ladder...
Please Forgive Me
3. My Oh My
4. We're Not Right
6. Silver Lining
7. White Ladder
8. This Years Love
10. Sail Away
11. Say Hello Wave Goodbye
12. Babylon II