I grew up listening to David Gray’s “White Ladder” along with what is, in my opinion, an equally masterful album, “Draw the Line,” and only recently did I get to see the English singer-songwriter live. The show was in Boston, for White Ladder’s twentieth anniversary tour, in the Leader Bank Pavilion, a gorgeous, open venue on a waterfront. I had never been to a concert so big, so the show was an especially wonderful experience, complete with outfit changes, lights and smoke, and storytelling. Cleverly, David changed from a black suit to a white suit to kick off the performance of White Ladder in its entirety, after playing some of my personal favorites of his: Fugitive, Kathleen, and The One I Love.
The album White Ladder was a stroke of genius for David Gray, who had been struggling on the margins for his first three albums. Though not without talent, Gray truly set himself apart from other folk singer-songwriters by experimenting with a drum machine on his fourth work. It’s the soft, steady beats, which are recognizable on their own, that make White Ladder so special. In Boston, Gray described White Ladder as an album about being discouraged and becoming hopeful, reflecting his personal journey, which shows in the heartfelt, bittersweet lyrics. It’s clear that White Ladder was poured directly from David Gray’s soul, as the whole album holds up incredibly well today. Its songs cover a vast spectrum of human emotion, from having a tired but hopeful heart (This Year’s Love, Babylon) to feeling lost and in despair (Nightblindness, My Oh My) to being so giddy you become awkward around the person you love (Please Forgive Me). Gray recorded the whole album with his band in his room, which is fitting for such intimate, honest material.
At the concert, Gray told the story of how Babylon, his first hit, placed at number five in the top forty. “It wasn’t number one, but who f**king cared,” he said with a chuckle. He recounted the tale of how his father, who was in the hospital receiving chemo at the time, pulled out his IV, burst out of the building to see his son perform at Glastonbury, and proceeded to strike up a conversation with David Bowie while there. The story was punctuated by a surprise rendition of Life On Mars, which Gray’s voice suited well. Going into the concert, I knew almost nothing about David Gray as a person, so hearing White Ladder’s origin stories added depth to the music and strengthened my love for it.
Next Chapter Records will have David Gray’s latest album, “Skellig,” in stock soon.