Sunday, August 4, 2013

Music Review: Acoustic Storytime (Live Stories and Songs) by Jason Gray

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fresh look at the truths in some great songs
Cons: "If I Were a Dog," fans already have most of these songs.
The Bottom Line:
Acoustic concerts
Give new life to great music
With timeless lyrics

A Man and His Guitar - Live

Some times, I have a hard time telling an acoustic CD from a regular CD, especially when it is a band making it.  That's not that case with Jason Gray's Acoustic Storytime (Live Songs And Stories).  This disc is just Jason and his guitar.  And the result is wonderful.

Okay, so maybe the sub-title doesn't quite ring true.  While the majority of the tracks are live, there are a few studio cuts in here.  But again, these tracks are just Jason and his guitar.

The results really show off how talented a musician he is.  I find I don’t really miss the other instruments.  Sure, they'd be nice to have there, but it's not really necessary.  He shines.  And this holds true whether we are going with the slower tracks or the more upbeat ones.  As he says near the beginning, he's not a rock musician, but there is enough stylistic changes, even with just him and his guitar, to keep you engaged.

And the lyrics shine all the more as a result.  This disc was released after his 2007 release All the Lovely Losers, so many of the songs here are from that release.  Since that was the disc that introduced me to Jason's music and still holds many favorites, I don't mind at all.

There are so many encouraging songs on this disc.  "This Far" is a statement of faith that "I don't believe you've brought me this far to give up."  Or there's the defiant faith of "I'm Not Going Down" that looks to God instead of circumstances.  We are reminded that God uses the weak in songs like "Blessed Be" and "You Are Mercy."

There are a few new tracks here.  There's "Down to the River," a song of surrender.  I really like "The Reason Why You Brought Me Here," which is a song searching for faith in the midst of pain.  Then there's the interesting case of "The Things We Hold Back."  While it's treated as a new song, it was actually from his 2000 independent release.  Finally, we get a cover of "New Way to Live."

Fans who haven't heard this disc before will be interested to find a teaser version of "How I Ended Up Here."  It's just the first verse/draft of a song that would show up on his next studio release.  What strikes me is how the audience laughs at some of the lines.  I'd never really considered them that funny before, but I can see why they laugh.

Jason tried to write a love song, and it wound up here.  "If I Were a Dog" imagines Jason as a dog in the presence of the object of his affect.  Jason, I love your music, but please don't try to write any more love songs.  This one doesn't work.

Finally, we get a slightly changed radio edit version of "Everything that I Own."  This is the only song that isn't just Jason and his guitar but includes other instruments and back up singers.  Frankly, it feels a bit over polished; while the result is fine, I prefer the original from All the Lovely Losers.

And there's the talking.  With the exceptions of "If I Were a Dog" and "How I Ended Up Here," all the talking is contained on separate tracks.  Several times, Jason talks about his stuttering and how God uses weakness like that in our lives and the lives of others.  He draws an analogy from a trip a friend took to a vineyard.  He encourages us to show Jesus to others.  And he shares the story of how a friend set him straight when he was ready to give up.  All these tracks are funny yet challenging and encouraging.  It really is good stuff to listen to and makes me hear the songs around them with near ears.

Earlier, I mentioned Jason's stuttering.  You can certainly notice it at times, but it's not that bad. When I've seen him in person, it's been worse than we hear here.

Even though this disc came out in 2008, I just now got it.  While I didn't need to rush out and get it, I'm glad I finally got it.  There isn't much here that die hard fans need to hear, but they will still enjoy it.  And Acoustic Storytime (Live Songs And Stories) will certainly encourage and challenge you.

CD Length: 77:29
1. Down to the River (Studio)
2. "…acoustic storytime"
3. This Far
4. "…because of our weakness"
5. Blessed Be
6. "…getting to the good stuff"
7. The Cut
8. The Reasons Why You Brought Me Here
9. "…switching the tapes"/How I Ended Up Here
10. "…loose that tongue!"
11. Weak (Studio)
12. The Things We Hold Back (Studio)
13. "…when's a good time to give up?"
14. Not Going Down
15. I Won't Back Down
16. "…praying with our lives"
17. You Are Mercy
18. If I Were a Dog
19. "…getting more than I deserve"
20. Grace
21. New Way to Live (Studio Cut)
22. Everything I Own (Radio Remix)

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