David Gray | Foundling (Mercer Street)

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Gray conveys a bit of wear and tear in his vocal delivery.

 

I’ll admit it: I’m a part-time David Gray fan. I enjoy his music, but more as background/working music than something I’d blast in my car. That said, even I can recognize that on his recent release, Foundling, Gray has pushed himself out of his comfort zone and expanded his palette. Foundling is rootsier than previous offerings, as if the artist were stripping his sound bare, back to the more honest, stripped-down offerings of older singer-songwriters. Some new instruments emerge that aren’t present on earlier releases, serving to expand Gray’s sound while he simultaneously strips things down to the basics.

After a rootsy opener, the album’s title track is bare-bones and basic: a couple stringed instruments, a tambourine and a struck block where the drums should be. The new style suits Gray’s voice well: his is neither smooth like John Mayer nor whispery like Damien Rice; rather, he conveys a bit of wear and tear in his vocal delivery. Piano is front and center on “Forgetting,” as the old Gray reemerges and reminds you why he’s been so successful for so long. Just voice and keys on this one; could the Brit be taking a page from the aforementioned Irishman’s songbook?

“Gossamer Thread” is a paean to Gray’s scratchy delivery; his voice is front and center on this track. “The Old Chair” is a bit too worn for my tastes; it’s so stripped down it teeters on the edge of boring. Up next, “In God’s Name” is a quietly beautiful song, tarnished only by Gray’s distorted vocals being too high in the mix. “Holding On” is a nice song, quietly yearning yet also soothing due to its gentle piano and accompaniments.

A late album highlight, “When I Was in Your Heart,” finds Gray reverting to the stripped-down method of voice and quietly strummed acoustic guitar. Soft harmonies accentuate the refrains. The last two tracks, “A New Day at Midnight” and “Davey Jones’ Locker,” sounds like classic Gray—much to like if you’re a faithful fan, more of the same if just a casual listener.

Ultimately, Foundling’s strengths are also its weaknesses. There’s only so much a solo singer-songwriter can do, album after album, to keep old fans interested and new fans attracted. Still, the versatility contained here goes a long way toward keeping Gray fresh and revered.

A special edition of Foundling comes with an eight-song bonus disc, essentially a second album’s worth of material. While there are some discs of which you cannot get enough, in this case it just feels like too much of a (largely) good thing.  B | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Damien Rice, John Mayer, Joe Henry

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