Coming Through My Headphones: Pandora Premieres David Gray!

david-gray-mutineers

I’m a music lover. Actually, make that a music stalker. A certified, constantly-updating-the-soundtrack-to-my-life, digging-through-old-crates-for-vintage-vinyls, bury-me-with-my-boom-box-headphones music stalker of clinical proportions. And with the rise of internet music sharing it’s become that much easier for me to feed my psychosis.

So, it goes without saying that I am also a Pandora lover. I’ve tried other services like iHeart, Slacker, and Spotify but they never seem to measure up. Maybe it’s that Pandora remains committed to it’s roots in the Music Genome Project as a way to create a unique listening experience for each user. With time, I really have come to feel as if my Pandora experience has evolved along with me. Now that Google Play Music, Amazon Cloud Player, and iTunes Match are revolutionizing music storage and accessibility in their own right, Pandora has once again had to redefine itself in order to keep up.

Yes, those are almost forty stations you see listed on my page!

Don’t worry. As usual, they’ve transitioned with ease and kept the best of what loyal listeners love. Just when I was beginning to think I’d created and fine tuned as many “stations” as I could ever possibly want or need, I started receiving emails from Pandora for something new: the ability to listen to select albums – tailored to my existing listening preferences – a week before their official release date! I had already been working on a way to share my eclectic music tastes with all of you – through a recurring “Coming Through My Headphones” series on the blog – when I received this as my motivation to stop “tweaking” the idea and get it out there!

So, here’s my review for one of the albums I’ve been listening to on Pandora Premieres over the past few weeks. I’ve actually heard great music from several artists: Rebelution, Cisco Adler, O.A.R., Danny Boone, David Gray, The Antlers, Nightmare on Wax, The Downtown Fiction, & Swollen Members. But if I’m going to do justice to each of their unique sounds, it’s better that I only review one or two of them at a time, so first up is David Gray. But keep an eye out for reviews on the others coming soon!

David Gray – Mutineers – Available June 17th

The obvious comparisons would place David Gray among the likes of Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, and Dave Matthews – all of whom are wonderful artists to be compared to – but I think Gray distinguishes himself on this album as a more diverse and expansive musician than just his folk-rock roots. How?

Well for starters, there’s a reason he chose Mutineers as the title track. Are those echoes of Robert Plant I hear??? I know. That’s a borderline sacrilegious statement. No one compares to the voice of Robert Plant. But listen closely and you’ve gotta admit the undertones are there. And what better way to set the tone for a connection between his British Folk roots and a broader sound that includes Rock, Hip Hop, Blues, and Gospel? Minus the Hip Hop influences, Led Zeppelin are one of the definitive bands known for blending multiple sounds seamlessly.

Mutineers starts off light, airy, innocent, and almost hopeful with the piano and keyboard intro.  Then around the 3:30 mark he kicks it up a notch with a manic drum beat. The drums have been there all along, but more controlled and measured. Now, they let loose in similar fashion to a Jimmy Page guitar solo that signals the oncoming ravenous-sex-god-refrain we’ve all been waiting for, and after an endless 25 second wait there it is… Do you hear it? In his throaty “Oooh, kick off your shoes, baby… Ohhh!” Yeah, I’m a groupie. And I’d kill to see this performed live. I can just imagine when the harmonica comes in a few moments later – the stomping feet, clapping hands, and joyful bandying.

It’s clearly no Stairway To Heaven, but that’s why it’s perfect. Gray isn’t going for a Zeppelin cover. With Mutineers, he’s going for classic David Gray taken to a new height – and after 11 studio albums he’s definitely procured a fine vintage all his own. If one song also happens to draw up memories of a certain legendary rock band/ lead singer … well, all I have to say is: “Does anybody remember laughter? … baby, Oooohhh! … just give it to me give it to me give it to me …. sugar, sugar …”

In contrast, Back In The World is my morning cup o’ joe. I don’t know about being back in the world again, but I definitely feel like I could take on the world with this song. And what’s with that beat-box upkick at the 2:30 mark? Suddenly, I wanna bust a few old school rhymes over this track.

“I’m naked like a tree, it’s the only way to be

when I’m searchin’ for me, for Nelson Mandela Free

Starving for FRESH, DOPE

BEAUTY…

Back in this world that can’t see

Void of sight for the likes of WE

Me and my boy D. Gray

askin’ y’all whose to say?

whose to say how it goes

what do they really know?

Only way to be, naked like a tree yes, yes y’all

dancin’ in the leaves, Coltrane blurrin’ with crazy

Genius, Madness, Love

Love put a song in his heart y’all

Yeah some days it’s misery

but that’s the mystery

the creativity.

Every. day. Uh.”

Where are Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick when you need ’em? And what’s with that gospel choir finale? Okay, I’m done. Well, not really. If this is my morning pick me up I guess that means I’m just starting. But yea, expect this song to get a lot of play on repeat!

A few of my other favorites include: Last Summer which I can only describe as Miguel Bose Si Tu No Vuelves meets Guns N Roses Patience meets Michael Franti Firefly? Maybe it’s the acoustic guitar strum that reminds me of the Slash/Izzy Stradlin opening. There’s no denying the whistling as a shared trait between all three songs: Patience, Last Summer, and Si Tu No Vuelves – not to mention the aching violin strings in Last Summer and Si Tu No Vuelves. I’m probably reaching with that reference to Firefly, but what can I say, Pandora knows my heart! There’s got to be some shared acoustic sonority or something in there, because I swear I hear a connection!

Then there’s Snow In Vegas which has a slow start but a great pick up halfway through and shows off several stand out lyrics in lines like:

“Just when I was thinking we’d come about as far as this old road could take us,

time to pull on over baby, yeah just stop the car and it falls like snow in Vegas.

And we’ll leave that sign up on the door, so the hotel maid don’t wake us.

Now pigs can fly and I’ll command these breakers.

Any thing you want yeah, any thing at all

any little thing you’re needing, all you do is call.

Got my money where my mouth is, the sugar’s in the cane

If I had a million dollars, I’d blow it on champagne

We’re vain yeah and we’re greedy we’re selfish and we’re needy

but it’s just the way God made us.

Now pigs can fly and I’ll command these breakers.”

Cake And Eat It brings back that beloved gospel choir sound, this time in the form of an interlude reprise. And where Snow In Vegas highlighted Gray’s songwriting ability, Birds of The High Arctic shows off his vocal range a la Elton John and pure British Folk. Girl Like You is the most “out there” of the bunch offering up a synth borderline electronic sound. The tunnel effect “wind-oooohhs” add a ghost-like mysterious quality, and there goes that spunky gospel choir again in the “Yeahs” which cascades into what almost sounds like a free style jazz session wrap up.

Finally, I think Gulls might be my number one track. At the very least it’s my ahhhh factor. I’d been wanting to talk about this song since I started but I was trying to pace myself. So, of course, Gray placed it as the very last song on the album. Which is part of what makes it so great – that stretching. aching. building. well-paced waiting for what’s to come. It almost vibrates with each note. And if  other songs on the album alternated between highlighting vocal quality and lyrical ability, Gulls has it all packaged into one. Vocal quality. Lyrics. Musical Depth. Guitar build. Chills. Speaker warping. Everything.

This land belongs to the gulls. And the gulls to their cry.

And their cry to the wind. And the wind belongs to no one.

The wind belongs to no one

Toward the seed that God sowed

Oh baby, Try to recognize it in my mind. Try to snuff it out before it happens.

… (The writing’s on the writing’s on the writing’s on the wall) … “

Final verdict: Get the album. Now. Today. Well, not today since it’s not available until tomorrow, but you know what I mean. Just do it. You won’t regret it. A+, David Gray. A+!

~ Constance SHERESE, cS

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