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Album review: David Gray's 'Draw the Line'

September 22, 2009 |  6:00 am


With his homemade classic, "White Ladder," British crooner David Gray unwittingly paved the way for James Blunt and company's simpering love ballads. On his eighth studio album, Gray reclaims and reinvigorates his territory with "Draw the Line," a polished yet ragged collection of complex love and exasperation melodies. Weepy sentimentalists, back off.

Gray hurls his voice, makes demands and sets boundaries, sometimes against the album's most gently etched landscapes. He asserts that the singer-songwriter's force is not only to be conjured with delicate guitar picking or hushed pleas. In fact, emotional catharsis can sound downright burly in Gray's world. And everyone knows it's bad news to rile up a crooner. Think about Frank Sinatra.

Though the music flows through comfortable but sophisticated channels of folk-pop, it also takes some turns into rougher terrain. "Stella the Artist," with its lyrics about stinging rebuke and swimming through a sea of "psychotic puke," matches the terse but victorious mood with snapping drums and a flashing piano line. Although Gray doesn't render his Stella in obvious terms, some bohemian gamines might find themselves blushing with recognition.

In "Full Steam," the album's final bow in which he partners with Annie Lennox, the two twine their voices, ticking off a list of life's inequities. It's the right person for him to duet with -- another artist who can make "bullied, suckered, pimped and patronized" sound like gospel for the disillusioned.

--Margaret Wappler

David Gray
"Draw the Line"
Mercer Street Records
Three stars (out of four)