David Gray has taken a circuitous and frustrating path to grassroots stardom, having been underpromoted and undersold by no fewer than three labels before slowly and unexpectedly hitting it big with his fourth album, 1999's White Ladder. With the enthusiastic assistance of admirer Dave Matthews, who reissued the record as the inaugural release on his fledgling vanity label, Gray's song "Babylon" became an omnipresent radio smash. The story is heartwarming, but also indicative of the role luck plays in the pursuit of stardom: Gray was making good albums before White Ladder, and only a few thousand people heard them. Meanwhile, charismatic singers with a similar style—if you like Gray, seek out Paddy Casey's sleeper-worthy debut album—labor in continued obscurity. But Gray is a worthy recipient of the hard-won good fortune, with a striking voice and an ear for memorable folk-pop songwriting, and his new Lost Songs 95–98 finds him working within a modest singer-songwriter template that serves him well. Largely forgoing the vague techno touches that propelled "Babylon" and other songs on White Ladder, Lost Songs (recorded during a 10-day session late in 1999) sticks primarily to stripped-down acoustic simplicity, leaving the focus on the Welsh-bred Londoner's striking, front-and-center vocals. In fact, the best songs are the simplest, with "Hold On" and "If Your Love Is Real" besting the slicker, notably Matthews-esque "A Clean Pair Of Eyes." The album as a whole feels a bit slight and marginal in scope (11 songs, 37 minutes) and content, with two instrumentals dotting its landscape. But it's a nice way to flesh out Gray's newly discovered catalog, which deserves the long-delayed leftfield attention.

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