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Acoustic Storytime: Live Songs and Stories

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Nov
Acoustic Storytime: Live Songs and Stories
Sounds like … bare-bones acoustic pop/folk in the tradition of Andrew Peterson, Bebo Norman, Andy Gullahorn, David Wilcox, and Wes King.At a glance … Jason Gray inspires and entertains with Acoustic Storytime, stripped down to just his vocals, guitar, and ability to connect with audiences through speech and song. Track ListingDown to the River (studio cut)"… acoustic storytime"This Far"… because of our weakness"Blessed Be"… getting to the good stuff"The CutThe Reasons Why You Brought Me Here"… switching the tapes"How I Ended Up Here"… loose that tongue!"Weak (studio cut)The Things We Hold Back (studio cut)"… when's a good time to give up?"Not Going DownI Won't Back Down"… praying with our lives"You Are MercyIf I Were a Dog"… getting more than I deserve"GraceNew Way to Live (studio cut)Everything I Own (radio remix)

To be perfectly upfront, this is not an album for people in search of polished pop with a trendy sound, nor is it background music for passive listening—which might explain why it's only available through Jason Gray's website, concerts, and various music download stores. But for those looking to connect with an artist through songs and the inspiration behind them, the singer/songwriter's new "in between project" does the job extremely well.

As the title implies, Acoustic Storytime: Live Songs and Stories plays out like an episode of VH1 Storytellers or an iTunes Original release—stripped-down, acoustic versions of previously released songs, interspersed with the anecdotes and ideas that inspired them. Gray has said that he was nervous about releasing a "warts and all" album such as this, but the sparseness and vulnerability are precisely why it works so well—and why fans have been clamoring for such a project form the guy, having witness his charming stage banter in concert.

Recorded while on tour in California and Minnesota in 2007, most of the songs come from Gray's previous release All the Lovely Losers, with unplugged renditions of highlights like "Grace," "You Are Mercy," and "Blessed Be," as well as his older favorite "Not Going Down" and a good cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." Just as memorable as the performances are the explanations, including a word about his long battle with a stuttering problem and a hilarious story about a would-be faith healer.

The album also has its share of new material, some of it concert fodder like the cute love song "If I Were a Dog" and the brief, humorously anti-social "How I Ended Up Here." Of the weightier material, "The Reasons You Brought Me Here" is strong, but somewhat resembles Ginny Owens' hit "If You Want Me To." Better are the studio cuts, similarly stripped down, but not performed in front of an audience. Gray continues to impress with his insightful songwriting in "The Things We Hold Back" and "New Way to Live." There's also the radio remix of "Everything I Own" featuring some alternate lyrics that generalize it in a good way, making it more broadly relatable and closer in style to Keith Green.

It would have been nice if the album captured a single concert from Gray, rather than a hodgepodge of various shows and studio recordings, but that's a minor detail with all things considered. Songwriting this strong transcends continuity and sparse production. If Gray can communicate this much with just his guitar, vocals, and ideas, imagine what he can do with a bigger recording budget. This is the sort of artist that deserves more support from his industry and community, because a singer/songwriter that can communicate God's truths with such insight and humor is surely on the verge of a breakthrough.

© Russ Breimeier, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.