Folk troubadour Gray is on to his twelfth studio album titled ‘Skellig’. Which takes its name from a formation of precipitous rocky islands off the coast of Co. Kerry where in 600AD a group of monks set up a monastery, believing that leading such a merciful existence, they would leave the distraction of the human realm to be ultimately closer to God.
“The more I contemplated the idea of a small group of people landing on those rocks and establishing a monastic life there, the more overpowered I became by a dizzying sense of awe. How close to God could you possibly wish to get? Life must have been unbelievably hard for them and trying to fathom the deep spiritual conviction that compelled them to escape the mediaeval world lead me to acknowledge my own deepest longings to be free of all the endless human noise that we now so readily accept as being such an inescapable part of our day to day lives. Dreams of revelation, dreams of a cleansing purity, dreams of escape. Ideas that I think almost any 21st century person shouldn’t find it too hard to relate to!”
It’s that purity and escape from unwanted noise that leads this album with its stripped back intimate sound. Opening track ‘Skellig’ with its floating multi voice over simple guitar and lonely piano. The head shaking pumped up Gray is no where to be seen. ‘Dún Laoghaire’ still clings to the old Gray albeit a mature reminiscing Gray.
After the quiet start the album starts to pick up with third track ‘Accumulates’. Adding some simple percussion gives it a welcome position on the album after the first two tracks. Even Grays voice has picked up as he leads into Single ‘Heart And Soul’ carries on the spirit of previous track ‘Accumulates’. ‘Deep Water Swim’ does the same thing with its complete drums
‘Laughing Gas’ however pairs piano with mournful cello as Gray reverts to his deeper gentle emotive voice he carries through ‘No False Gods’ which is the shortest track on the album but perhaps the one packed with the most emotion.
The album comes to a close as Gray enter familiar territory with romantic and gorgeous penned odes to love. The multi layered vocals go to some good effect on ‘Spiral Arms’ the warm and fuzzy piano hug of ‘The White Owl’ and the warming guitar of ‘Dares My Heart To Be Free’ which has a touch of Christmas joy about it.
If ‘Can’t Hurt More That This’ doesn’t bring a tear to the eye clumsy wondering piano allows Grays voice to do its job as it moves you with his emotive quality. Very much a stop what you are doing and listen track. As is the sweet closing track ‘All That We Asked For’, best enjoyed with the eyes closed. Just be aware of the painful jolt back to reality once the track finishes.
Venturing up to the Scottish Highlands with mostly Irish musicians Mossy Nolan, David Kitt, Niamh Farrell and Robbie Malone and British classical musician Caroline Daleto Gray was welcomed by the kindness of Edwyn Collins, his wife and son, in their small, intimate studio. A fitting location for the often barren and lonely record with its moments of warmth like a coal fire on a Guinness black night.
Maybe a more mellow Gray after the two year gap from 2019’s electric ‘Gold In A Brass Age’ but one that is still a master songwriter who is just as able to captivate with simple voice and piano as he is with a full band. A slow burner for the most part his capture of a rural island with the use of various voices and a small collection of instruments is nothing but intoxicating once its gets under the skin.
Have a listen to Gray’s Live verison of Can’t Hurt More Than This, below
Enjoy the track Heart And Soul, below
Order the album here