British singer-songwriter David Gray merges the sincerity of a folk singer and depth of a poet.
In June, Gray released his latest album, “Mutineers,” on both sides of the Atlantic. It arrived 21 years after his debut, “A Century Ends,” and 15 years after his breakthrough album, “White Ladder.”
“White Ladder” began inauspiciously, released as it was by Gray’s own IHT Records. The album first caught on in Ireland, a music-loving nation that already had embraced Gray’s earnest, introspective style.
“I’m obviously a wordy and earthy singer-songwriter,” Gray, who’ll perform Friday at the Saenger Theatre, said recently from a tour stop in Salt Lake City. “And I made a sort of salt of the Earth connection with the Irish.
“When ‘White Ladder’ took off in Ireland, it grew on a bedrock of all the years of going ’round the country, building it up in a traditional word of mouth way.”
Music still matters in Ireland, Gray said.
“Music exists there in a way it perhaps exists in New Orleans,” he said. “But it’s largely died that way in England. In Ireland, it’s in the blood, a part of life and conversation. And they’re all so adept and so versed in music and so responsive. It’s amazing when the crowds sing with you. I once had a crowd singing back in harmony.”
Following the enthusiasm for “White Ladder” in Ireland, the album got a major boost through American music star Dave Matthews. The still-struggling Gray met Matthews in the U.S. when the Dave Matthews Band was on the cusp of stardom.
“Dave was a fan right at the beginning,” Gray said. “In Boulder, Colorado, in 1993 or ’94, he gave me his first record and said he loved my album, ‘A Century Ends.’ ”
Matthews launched his own record company about five years later, ATO, and Gray’s “White Ladder” became its debut release.
“Dave had a record company ready to go but nothing to release, so it was perfect timing,” Gray said. “It ended up being a key part of my story over here.”
“White Ladder,” one of Gray’s three No. 1 albums in the U.K., eventually sold 7 million copies. And now Gray sees “Mutineers,” his 10th album, as one of regeneration.
“I was yearning for something, like an animal yearns for a mineral in the desert,” he said. “I needed new sonic terrain, something to wake me up, a new way of saying ‘hallelujah.’ ”
Gray, 46, admits that the decades since he recorded “A Century End” have left him with some nicks and dents.
“I’ve been transported around the world over and over and over again,” he said. “But I’m back for more. There’s a celebratory zest in what I’m doing. The only thing I’ll say about getting older and doing this is that it’s finite, so I treasure the shows and I treasure the connection.
“My only defense against the vulnerability that you suffer as an artist is to just give everything. So, more and more, I dig deeper. That’s the only path I seem to be following. Music is a circle. You just keep going ’round and you think you’re just at the beginning. That’s how I feel at the moment.”