Life In Slow Motion Label: ATO/RCA
Unbeknownst to many here in the States, Englishman David Gray has been making music since 1993. It took him six years to gain mainstream recognition, as Dave Matthews courted him to the then-new ATO Records just in time for his breakthrough White Ladder in 1999. Although it wasn’t an immediate hit in the U.S., White Ladder eventually spun off a string of radio and video hits, including “Babylon” and the movie soundtrack staple “This Year’s Love.” While he doesn’t have near the catalog, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between Gray and the likes of Ryan Adams, Billy Bragg, or even Van Morrison. His unquestionable ability within this singer-songwriter crowd is an enduring hint that a career-defining masterpiece might be on the horizon. In the meantime, Life in Slow Motion stands on its own as a very solid effort.
Only occasionally resorting to electronica, Gray keeps it simple this time out and primarily acoustic. A hushed synthesizer ushers in the central piano of “Alibi,” a vocal treasure that picks up, for all intent and purposes, right where 2002’s A New Day at Midnight left off. For whatever reason, however, the singing herein seems more vital and burning. “Tell the Repo Man and the stars above that you’re the one I love,” Gray establishes on the first single “The One I Love”, while abundant strings unfold in a very Tunnel of Love kind of way. “Slow Motion” takes a while to build, but once there, the chorus is a thing of beauty- an ultra-dramatic crescendo of strings and horns, with a sparse slide guitar and Gray’s blistering high-end above it all. “Bada dat, dada dat, dada dat, da da da,” never sounded so good!
A tip of the genre hat goes to Bob Dylan on the strikingly restrained “From Here You Can Almost See the Sea” complete with Gray’s best falsetto endeavor. The jumpiest entry within Life in Slow Motion appears way late on “Hospital Food”, an ill-advised title but a great cut that brims with Elvis Costello and The Attractions flavor. “Tell me something I don’t know,” Gray jests, while full-band accompaniment spills in behind him. The closer “Disappearing World” is an uncommon rocking moment along an otherwise serene course.
One could very much say that Gray has borrowed the song-crafting strengths from Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker or last year’s Ray Lamontagne record (Trouble) in building his finest mission to date. Whether the aforementioned masterpiece is still somewhere in Gray’s future is anyone’s guess. The good news is that there aren’t many artists writing this high a caliber of songs these days that would even call for that wait.