Artist: Out of the Grey Album: A Little Light Left Year: 2015 Grade: B
In Brief: While it’s quite different from the glossy, catchy and quirky pop tunes of their 90s heyday, Out of the Grey has created a mellow and mostly acoustic record that feels authentic to who they are now. It’s not so much a comeback as it is a welcome visit from old friends you haven’t seen in ages.
I don’t like a lot of hodgepodge in my year-end lists of favorite albums. But sometimes the good songs don’t end up on full-length LPs, or else they do and I just don’t discover them in time to put them on that year’s list. This is where all of that stuff goes.
The final days of 2016 are upon us, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for some long lists that try (perhaps in vain) to sum up the best music I was listening to this year. As always, I’ll start with the individual songs that stood out to me the most. The in-depth reasons why I love these songs so much are mostly spelled out in the album reviews I’ve linked to from here, but in addition to the usual video evidence, I’ve also included a quick blurb for each of the Top 30 entries, just to keep it from being a long list with no explanation whatsoever, I guess.
I’ve also made a Spotify playlist that collects a lot of these highlights, if you’d like to spend a few hours following along. (That one’s ordered more as I discovered the songs, not so much how I’d rank them now, and it’s limited to one track per artist.)
John Paul White – Beulah Joy Williams’ first post-Civil Wars record last year was more of a mellow pop album with hints of folk around the edges, so purists who liked the often stark acoustic sound that the duo found so much success with will probably find more to relate to in White’s solo work than in Williams’. Personally, while I appreciate White’s voice and songcraft, something feels missing when he’s all by his lonesome, with no one to harmonize. That’s probably why the guest appearance of fellow Alabama musicians The Secret Sisters makes their collaboration on “I’ve Been Over This Before” an instant standout. The inclusion of electric guitar on a few tracks brings to mind the grittier approach of “The One that Got Away” and “I Had Me a Girl”, but White’s more sensitive side is effective on tracks like “I Hate the Way You Love Me” and “I’ll Get Even” that don’t sound from their titles like they’d be so darn tender.
Out of the Grey – A Little Light Left Out of the Grey remains a nostalgic favorite of mine for their early 90’s CCM albums, the first of which I’m still quite comfortable labeling as an example of “the perfect pop album”. But unless you count 2009’s Voyage, which was really more of a Christine Denté solo album, they hadn’t put out anything as duo in almost a decade and a half, up until this new crowd-funded effort was quietly released last year. Since under-the-radar indie-funded releases often don’t make it into Spotify’s database, I had no chance to hear this one without actually buying it, but not having a whole lot else new to listen to this month, I finally took the chance and got it from iTunes. Like Voyage, it’s a very mellow effort centered mostly around Christine’s piano and Scott’s acoustic guitar, but unlike the devotional focus of that record, these songs are very relational, and unlike the bulk of Out of the Grey’s work, Scott’s vocals are much more prominent in the mix this time, making them feel like a true vocal duo and not just “she sings, he does his guitar magic”. I still miss the old glossy 90s pop sound, though I would never expect such a thing to come back into style or want an artist to feel stuck in the genre they started out with. I am pleasantly surprised by the country overtones and the interesting lyrical turns a few of these songs possess. Despite how different they sound now versus how they sounded in 1991, it still feels like a welcome visit from old friends whenever I hear them perform, so I’m happy that they’re still at it after all these years.
As 2001 drew to a close, I found myself experiencing a rebirth of sorts, finally feeling plugged into a church, and really making friends who I could talk to about important, personal matters. I joined a Neighborhood Sedaqah Group (Evergreen’s term for a weekly Bible Study) in Pasadena and finally felt like part of a community.
In with the New:
Lots of turmoil and fear were packed into these few months – not just for me, but for a lot of Americans. There would be no clever plans, no “getting away from it all” – no options other than faith to get me through uncertain times. Yet, the common fears that many of us shared were probably what made it seem more natural for folks to find reassurance in baring their souls to one another, so it was easier during this segment of my life to be more of an “extrovert” and hit the ground running in a lot of new friendships. These were the first few months in which I truly got involved in the new church I’d been attending for the better part of the year. Some of the people I met and shared my hurts and fears with in those days are still good friends now, almost a decade later.
This is the dreaded “post-breakup” mix. It’s actually one of my favorites, because while I could have taken it in an unapologetically depressed and angry direction (and I did give into those emotions here and there), there’s actually a sense of hope and even a slight hint of excitement at the chance to start over that emerges as the second disc winds down. Even in my darkest hour, I was somehow convinced that there would be better days ahead.
In with the New:
Out with the Old: