Erudite British folk-rocker David Gray was staring out the window of his upper-level Chicago hotel room when he saw an urban peregrine falcon rocketing past in hot pursuit of an unwieldy pigeon.
On the phone for a recent interview to promote his Bay Area concert next week, he called it the natural order of things, and was comforted —but only to a certain degree.
“I’m looking at all these glass monoliths around me, rising up into the sky, which tell the story of how we’ve diverted from our earthly connection, our earthly roots, and as a species elevated ourselves above everything else,” he said. “This is our most profound problem, and it’s deeply disturbing. We need to rebuild that connection, and it’s not so easy to do.”
His latest album, the electronica-meets acoustic “Gold In a Brass Age,” is a good start.
Ever since he broke through with 1998’s initially self-released “White Ladder” (reissued in 2000 on Dave Matthews’ ATO imprint), Gray has been one of rock’s most thoughtful, politically-informed lyricists who relied on metaphors and a whiskey-smooth rasp to blunt any sharp invective, spoonful-of-sugar style.
But this time, the gloves are off, beginning with the fingerpopping opener on “Gold,” called “Sapling,” which likens an oak to a blossoming of renewed faith in humanity: “Gonna lay down in the grass and watch that acorn/ Split in two and slowly take root…Though the ghosts of better days might twist my eyes/ I’ll stand my ground, watch that sapling rise.”
The album, which is Gray’s 11th — ramps up the natural imagery in “Mallory,” “Hurricane Season” and the quavering title track, without ever directly referencing climate change.
Having just turned 51, he attributes his new outlook to simply getting older and wiser: “I think this record represents a rediscovery of something that’s important,” he says, pointing to the sensory deprivation his job entails.
If he isn’t isolated in a recording studio, he’s stuck in a dressing room or a hotel suite, waiting for showtime.
“And once you step offstage, that’s it, that’s your day. You’re like a mayfly, living every day for those few hours,” he adds. “But only with nature can I recalibrate and reconnect. It’s the source of all my deepest ponderings and ruminations.”
Not surprisingly, Gray has a cottage retreat along the English coast where he disappears on weekends to consider song lyrics — which rarely goes as planned.
Outside, stoats, foxes and various waterfowl always commandeer his attention, particularly the local cuckoos as they slyly lay their eggs in warblers’ nests for them to hatch.
“It’s all going on right now back home — it’s spring,” he says. “The Welsh have a word for it called ‘hiraeth,’ which means a longing for where you come from.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. June 25
Tickets: $49.50 to $89.50
Contact: (510) 302-2250, www.ticketmaster.com