Gray’s authenticity and hope make this one of the year’s best.
Land of the Living
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 12 songs, 41 minutes
On Land of the Living Jason Gray makes honest self-disclosures characterized by wit and whimsy. Gray’s vulnerable lyrics remind me of people like Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson and Carolyn Arends. For those not familiar with him, this is a fine introduction to an artist who continues to refine his craft. Even so, I don’t think one can make mistake by choosing anything in his catalog. He stood out right from the start.
This is a polished mix of organic and programmed sounds; the latter being prominent on keyboards and percussion. Expect hand-claps! Gray was folksier starting out but now draws from a broader palette though still retaining acoustic elements. He incorporates a variety of styles, including a gospel choir on a couple of tracks. This mixture of pop and rock should make him new fans.
One example of the diversity in styles is “Questions,” which pairs a Spanish rhythm with reflective lyrics. The title track which incorporates sweeping strings is similar in sound to Steven Curtis Chapman. It’s an anthem drawn from Psalm 27:13: “I’ll see your goodness in the land of the living,” Gray declares.
The playful piano-driven “When I Grow Up” revels in paradox: “When I grow up I want to be a child again.” How can I not like the relaxed, feel-good R&B-influenced “See as You See”? Sounds like this dissipate my fears and cares.
“Jesus Loves You and I’m Trying” combines humor with grace. The characters we meet personify a number of the divides in society. What an opening!
Here you come again, raising trouble in my comments section
I know I can always count on you
To be the final word on public health, religion and elections
You even brought a YouTube clip for proof
The addition of the familiar Sunday School chorus takes on a new relevancy. Gray not only applies it to difficult people but himself. This reminds me of the old hymn “Standing in the Need”: “It’s me oh, Lord/I’m standing in the need of prayer.” It’s so easy to think that others are the problem and not recognize that we also stand in need. “Jesus loves you” becomes more meaningful when we recognize how much we are unlovable.
The driving chorus of “Be Kind” gives voice to a simple thought that can change lives including our own: “Be kind/’Cause everyone is fighting their own battle.” This aligns with words attributed to Fred Rogers:
There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.
“So, be kind,” Gray sings. “’Cause everyone you see/Needs to know they matter.”
Far from being slow and acoustic, the music is mid-tempo and thoroughly engaging through modern production. Not the kind of sounds Mr. Rogers produced, but my guess is that he would appreciate the message. Kindness, after all, is one of God’s attributes.
In “Worth Staying” Gray discloses what led to stuttering and a failed marriage. In view of people walking out he asks, “Wasn’t I worth staying for?” Walter Winchell said, “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
Gray, however, doesn’t use this occasion to engage in self-pity or blame. He acknowledges the trail of his own wreckage. His answer to the question “is to trust the love I’m hearing in the kind voice of the Lord saying I’m worth staying for.” Christ walks in when others walk out. The music on this fits the context; somewhat somber. Painful self aware songs this compelling don’t come along every day.
The contemporary sounds, Gray’s authenticity and an underlying hope in God’s goodness make this one of the year’s best releases.