David Gray

White Ladder (RCA ‘2000) Rating: B+
Fordham’s WFUV radio station (90.7) is the one New York City area radio station with any imagination, so when they started plugging this album I took notice. I don’t know exactly how much WFUV had to do with it (my guess is a lot; Dave Matthews was also a very vocal supporter), but a lot of other people also started to take notice, and White Ladder became one of 2000/2001’s sleeper hits, eventually cracking Billboard’s Top 10. It was an increasingly rare case of good consumer taste, because this is an evocative album musically and lyrically that tackles adult concerns, primarily the ups and downs of love (“there’s no rhyme or reason in love”) and simple but all-consuming problems (“what we gonna do when the money runs out?”). Acoustic guitars, piano/keyboards, and Gray’s pleasantly plaintive voice carry most of these serious songs, but it's the breezily programmed drum patterns that make him stand out from other folk rockers. Gray’s consistently solid songwriting and romantic bent (“sail away with me honey”) are his other calling cards, and most of these songs are carried by his very own real sense of desperation (“this year’s loving had better last”), which gives them an evocative undercurrent of sadness. Granted, the album is a little one-note after a while, but it’s a nice note, especially on “Please Forgive Me,” “Babylon” (the hit single whose guitar line recalls Bread’s “Make It With You”), “My Oh My,” "This Year's Love," and “Sail Away.” This accomplished album ends with a realistic dissolution of a relationship (“take a look at my face for the last time, I never knew you, you never knew me”), fittingly closing a mature groove-based song cycle about love and its accompanying foibles and heartache.

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