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A Thousand Miles Behind
A Thousand Miles Behind sees David Gray paying tribute to the songs that have inspired him, and is very much a return to basics musically.
John Walshe, 03 Oct 2007
A dozen cover versions, performed and recorded live between 2001 and 2007, A Thousand Miles Behind sees David Gray paying tribute to the songs that have inspired him, and is very much a return to basics musically. The fact that my version of Real Player automatically categorised it as ‘General Folk’ should give you some indication that the percussion, effects, bells, whistles and whatever-you’re-having-yourself heavy production that characterised Gray’s recent output are gone. For the most part, this is just Gray’s distinctive vocal, accompanied either by guitar or piano, with even Clune’s delicate brush strokes generally absent from the mix.
As such, it’ll probably completely alienate any White Ladder-era coffee-table fans still hanging around, and it’s certainly not an immediate record, despite its obvious live credentials. The fact that the majority of the songs are as slow as a funeral march doesn’t exactly help matters, but when you’re dealing with songwriters of the calibre of Bob Dylan (who contributes a quarter of the songs), Will Oldham, Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen, the quality of their lyrics shines through, no matter how sparse the instrumentation. Indeed, Gray’s passionate take on His Bobness’ masterful ‘To Ramona’ benefits greatly from the lack of ornamentation or orchestration. Ironically, it’s the raucous version of ‘Long Black Veil’, made famous by Johnny Cash, which is less effective, suffering from the had-to-be-there criticism often levelled at live albums.
Elsewhere, there’s a decidedly eerie take on Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’, a beautiful piano-driven version of Oldham’s ‘One With The Birds’, and a surprisingly fragile, world-weary reading of Dylan’s ‘One Too Many Mornings’, whose chorus gives the album its title. He succeeds in making Johnny Cash’s ‘I Tremble For You’ and Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ his own, although he does get a little overwrought on the chorus of the latter, while ‘Mansion On The Hill’, from Springsteen’s Nebraska, is almost as gorgeous as the original.