David Gray’s best known for ”Babylon,” ? a chilled-?chardonnay folk-pop hit so lovely and British, it charmed Prince Charles. Since then, the singer-songwriter’s profile has gotten more ? modest, and that average-bloke vibe suits him as he trades electro-acoustic filigree for a rootsier sound. Carried by his gruff voice, Foundling‘s all warm arrangements and real emotion.
Part, if not all, of David Gray’s appeal comes from his sadness. Rarely was there a moment of happiness on his blockbuster smash, 2001’s White Ladder. Even when the tone was cheery or the lyrics suggested pleasantry, he kept a firm grip on his macabre nature with slower tempos, minor piano or guitar chords, and a voice so honest that it would be impossible to not focus more on the cynicism peering through each of his words over the fact that he was singing the word “Babylon” a little funky.
"It's the record I've been wanting to make for a long time," says David Gray of his ninth album, which arrives less than a year after number eight. Funny, because it's not so very different from the records he's been making all along. The customary bleak introspection ("Take me down, take me down," he sighs, preparing for the worst, on Davey Jones' Locker) is there, as is the neediness in his jagged voice, especially on the bloodily raw When I Was in Your Heart.
David Gray was always an unlikely looking popstar. Not just offering meat and potatoes acoustic rock, he actually looked quite like a pub dinner, like a rough assemblage of veg, or a mister potato head who, like Pinocchio, had finally been granted that meaty body he dreamed of. His democratic features made him look a bit like an extra from a Strongbow ad who had wandered into a pop promo.
Written during the same sessions that spawned 2009’s Draw the Line, Foundling is another pleasant, pastoral effort from David Gray, who seems to have settled into a contemporary folk mold after flirting with electronics during the ‘90s. “Only the Wine,” which kicks off this two-disc set with acoustic guitar and brushed percussion, takes its cues from Van Morrison and Nick Drake, both of whom serve as stylistic touchstones throughout the album. Gray plays to his strengths fairly well, keeping the tempos leisurely and the mood relaxed, and he looks to his arrangements for diversity, either paring a song down to its piano-and-vocals skeleton or dressing it up in light layers of strings, organ, and electric guitar.
The majority of the songs on David Gray’s Foundling were written during the same sessions that resulted in last year’s Draw the Line. So it’s hardly a surprise that Foundling sounds as much like a collection of B-sides and outtakes as it does a proper album. Gray does his particular brand of contemporary folk better than many of his contemporaries, in that he can turn a memorable phrase when he chooses to and he can craft a sturdy, pop-inspired melody, but Draw the Line was a predictable, safe effort, and the plodding, interminable Foundling continues in that vein.
On 2009’s Draw the Line, David Gray found and captured what he called a “fire in his belly,” producing a collection of songs that showed the British singer-songwriter at a level of musical freedom he hadn’t previously explored. Reviews were mixed, and the album felt sporadic, with several high moments and catchy tunes, but ultimately lacking the cohesion that creates a great album. Thus explains Foundling, Gray’s latest record composed of leftover Draw the Line material, hitting shelves less than a year after the latter’s release.