First Appeared at The Music Box, February 2001, Volume 8, #2
Written by T.J. Simon
The past year has presented the market with multiple U.K. artists reinventing the acoustic folk genre by dragging the music kicking and screaming into the 21st century. In the forefront of this movement is David Gray who just released his fourth album White Ladder, and although Gray has been making music for a while, he has not been on the U.S. radar screen until recently. This is largely thanks to Dave Matthews, Gray's most influential fan, who secured a U.S. record deal for him with the ATO label.
White Ladder is an album at which folk purists may cringe, but this collection of catchy songs on a bed of computer-generated drum beats remains one of the finest releases of 2000. Gray scored a bona-fide radio hit with the single Babylon, and indeed this is an album that has the capacity to produce multiple radio-friendly singles. These include the opening cut Please Forgive Me and the Soft Cell remake Say Hello Wave Goodbye. Gray, whose strong vocals are reminiscent of both Cat Stevens with a dose of helium and Simply Red's lead singer Mick Hucknall, enhances his version of Say Hello Wave Goodbye with lyrical quotes from Van Morrison's Into the Mystic and Madam George.
Gray's own lyrics explore familiar themes of love, desire, and regret -- well-mined territory for this style of music. Yet, all of this is done in the midst of mellow guitars, trippy rhythms, and piano interludes. The high points of the album are those that begin and conclude the disc. Unfortunately, some of the mid-album ballads sound plain and uninventive because Gray abandons the electronica elements that define the rest of his recent work. In addition, the last cut on the album, which is titled Babylon II, is virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor. Back-to-back listens of the Babylon songs reveal that Babylon II (The Sequel) has a slightly different syncopated drumbeat than the original, but the question remains: Do we really need this? Is it a true bonus track or mere filler on an album that would otherwise only be 10 songs? This type of marketing ploy is a disturbing trend in the music industry, and it is more insidious than the obligatory "hidden track," which Gray, thankfully, spares us.
Overall, however, listeners will be very pleased with White Ladder, and fans who are hungry for more of the same would do well to listen to Paddy Casey's Amen (So Be It). Both Gray and Casey are cut from the same cloth, and they both shot to the top of the charts in Ireland with similar albums before their new electronically backed folk-pop albums migrated to the U.S. In essence, they've both created well-produced modern pop songs that will fit nicely into any CD collection for the new millennium.
Of Further Interest...
White Ladder is also available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box