British folk singer-songwriter David Gray seemed to fade from the collective consciousness of the average fickle American listener almost as fast as his hit single “Babylon” faded from the charts and radio playlists almost two years ago. True stateside fans waited patiently, however, through multiple European tours and lengthy studio time.
The release of Lost Songs: 95-98, a compilation of rare acoustic tracks, helped to quench the thirst for new material for a time.
Last week, die-hard fans and first-time fans alike were treated to an emotionally charged addition to Gray’s already extensive album catalogue in the form of A New Day at Midnight.
Those expecting the same lovesick-yet-optimistic folk ballads that were on Gray’s 2000 U.S. debut White Ladder might be somewhat perplexed. In A New Day at Midnight, Gray sheds this image in an attempt to explore a wider and darker range of emotions.
The album begins on a slow and somber note, as the title of the first song “Dead in the Water” suggests. Lyrically and musically, the song is heavy, as references to cancer, Armageddon and death are brought to life by the emotion in Gray’s voice.
“Caroline” is quick to contrast the heaviness of “Dead in the Water.” Lyrically and musically, the song is upbeat, calling to mind the love-themed, radio-friendly songs of White Ladder, and the pedal-steel guitar that rises up in the chorus adds a twangy, playful sound.
In “Freedom” Gray croons, ”If I close my eyes / I can still see you dancing and laughing loud.” For Gray, who recently lost his father to cancer, this is a lyrical journey through grief and reflection in his search for healing. One can hear the sadness in his voice as he sings, “You stand in disbelief / Can steal the earth from right beneath you.”
The slow, contemplative ballads continue with “Kangaroo” and “Last Boat to America.” However, the dark mood carried over from previous songs begins to lighten. In “Last Boat to America,” Gray looks to metaphorically float out of the grief and “into the stillness of a pure blue sky.”
“Be Mine” is a bright light among the darker, slower tracks that dominate the middle of the album. It draws the listener back to the good things in life: love, dreams and hope. Musically, it is upbeat and catchy; lyrically, it is quirky and playful. At one point Gray sings “Jumpin’ Jesus holy cow! What’s the difference anyhow baby ’til your heart belongs to me”.
The roller coaster of Gray’s emotions proceeds to dip in “Easy Way to Cry,” as he again revisits the pain and grief of loss. A mid-tempo folk-guitar anchor and contemplative lyrics convey healing, or at least a step in that direction. As Gray sings in the end of the song, it’s “so right now.”
The final song on the album, “The Other Side,” is stripped down instrumentally, consisting of little more than a piano and Gray’s hauntingly powerful voice, allowing the album to culminate in perhaps the most emotionally charged lyrics of all: “Meet me on the other side, I’ll see you on the other side.”
However, the final line of the song (and album), “Honey now if I’m honest I still don’t know what love is,” leaves listeners wondering (and perhaps morbidly hoping?) that there remain unresolved issues in Gray’s life for which he will seek healing in future masterpieces of song.
The emotion that Gray breathes into A New Day at Midnight undoubtedly caused at least in part by the death of his father, is something not seen on previous albums. This introspective depth propels an otherwise above-average album to the next level.