Album eight finds the singer striking out with a proper 'band' album.
Mike Diver 2009-09-22
David Gray’s gradual slide from radio ubiquity has been a blessing of sorts for the Manchester-born songwriter. While he’ll forever be remembered for his breakthrough single Babylon, which dominated the airwaves of 2000, a distancing from commercial tastes – he’s had no top ten single since 2005, and the lead single here, Fugitive, is yet to crack the top 100 – has allowed Gray to express himself in the right, self-rewarding ways.
Draw the Line, Gray’s eighth studio album, finds the singer striking out with a brand-new band set up after parting company with regular songwriting partner Craig McClune, and while he rightfully leads from the front, the album’s liner notes reveal that the newcomers have played more than just supporting roles, with numerous co-write credits. The results are pleasingly authentic of feel, in so much as the listener gets the impression that this is a ‘band’ album, rather than one from a solo artist merely backed by session hands.
Gray’s voice has drifted closer than ever before to the world-weary croak of the Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones at his downbeat best, which graces a handful of these songs with a hard-luck vibe that really connects with the listener, especially at a time of year when blue skies are beginning to turn grey for another six months. Transformation is one such cut, a gorgeous final minute of wordless harmonising the cherry atop a sumptuous surprise of understated elegance. Similarly delightful is Kathleen, Gray’s duet – although he dominates proceedings – with Texan folk singer Jolie Holland. It’s easily the standout track of this album’s mid-section.
Bringing Annie Lennox into the mix on the closing Full Steam rather lessens the album’s initial impact, diluting as it does an otherwise consistently strong showing from Gray – alongside the Eurhythmics legend he pales, the punch his female foil packs considerably more impressive than the comparative fragility of his own tones. In the track’s favour, its string arrangement never overpowers the basic strums-and-drums structure, complementing rather than conquering. Fugitive, perversely, is among the weaker numbers here, vocally buoyant but lacking any instrumental spark.
But the single is one of few slight disappointments on an album which, while breaking no boundaries nor exhibiting much adventuring beyond Gray’s comfort zone, stands up well to repeat plays and, ultimately, impresses enough to recommend to both existing fans and those yet to investigate the man’s material beyond his over-played hit of yesteryear.