Review Summary: Gavin DeGraw readily showcase his influences, yet somehow makes it abundantly clear that his music comes from no one but himself.
Gavin DeGraw launched himself into considerable fame when I Don't Want to Be
became the theme song of popular teen drama “One Tree Hill”. With an infectious melody and fiercely independent lyrics, it’s not surprising that his 1st single was a smash hit with teens all over the world who seemed to relate to his words, which were highly personal, yet carried the sentiment of a universal desperate thirst for individuality. However, it was the title track of this album, Chariot
, with which Mr. DeGraw really caught my attention. Buoyed consistently throughout with bold piano-work and carried in its climatic portions with harmonies that seem almost spontaneous, Chariot
’s gospel-like melody works well with somewhat ambiguous yet inexplicably meaningful lyrics to convey a very simple, relatable message: home is where the heart is, so please take me back. In the entire of his first release Chariot
, DeGraw yearns for a state of being he calls home, and the album itself obviously intends to encourage listeners to follow suit.
, DeGraw pens lyrics that speak volumes about his deep, romantic and somewhat jaded impressions of love, life and loss. Album opener Follow Through
sees him practically begging his love to stay to fill the cavernous void in his heart, yet carving in stone the conditions he believes must be present in a functional relationship, setting the bar rather high for romance. This apparent conflict of interests carries on throughout the album in stages with varying degrees of intensity, with tracks like Just Friends
bearing his betrayed heart for the world to see, while showcasing the depths of absolute devotion he is capable of in Over-Rated
and his apparent faith in the existence of direction and hope in love, in Meaning
. If this comes across as confused, it only serves to give credibility to Gavin’s ability to chronicle of the tumultuous ups-and-downs of love, which anyone having ever been in that state of mind may begrudgingly admit, tends to leave one feeling more than a little bipolar at times.
was focused, honest and fresh, but it didn’t succeed to the degree I’d have expected it to, and upon frank consideration it becomes obvious why. DeGraw writes lyrics far more honest and introspective that most of his pop-rock contemporaries and the man obviously has a killer voice to boot, but Chariot
suffered somewhat from over-production, plus the fact that DeGraw made an conscientious effort to produce mainstream pop, which seemed to straddle the unfortunate middle ground between merging perfectly with the crowd and a showcasing a true originality that had to exist, yet had not been utilized before. Chariot
felt like Gavin DeGraw selling out before the world knew exactly what he was betraying by doing so.
Truth be told, what truly inspired me to write this review was not particularly the album itself, but the accompanying bonus CD that came with Chariot
’s 2004 re-release, Chariot Stripped
. More than being an acoustic rendition of the album for a tranquil alternative to DeGraw’s initial inclination towards upbeat radio-friendly pop, Chariot Stripped
does exactly what its title suggests: strips down each song in the album to its barest, most original form. It is in these tracks that we hear Gavin’s influences far more clearly, the man having flung any desire to pander to mainstream pop out the window in favour of just getting down and doing his thing. Soul influences are far more evident here in tracks such as Just Friends
and I Don't Want to Be
, and his cover of Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come
is a direct tip of the hat to the blues that shaped his sound. DeGraw and his band, in a fit of unorthodox creativity, recorded Chariot Stripped
in its entirely in a single take; with only raw piano, drums and acoustic guitar work, the album serves as a studio version of a live concert, bringing listeners a far more intimate, uncalculated take on his art. Far more often than not this serves to intensify rather than dilute, turning tracks like Belief
into an incredibly soulful piano ballad, while letting Gavin go absolutely no-holds-barred crazy on Chemical Party
. The standout track in this one is once again the title track Chariot
, now stripped down to an absolutely gorgeous lounge-piano ballad, with DeGraw’s bluesy vocals simply oozing a slow burning intensity over beautiful, classy minimalistic instrumentation. Most if not all of the tracks on Chariot Stripped
feel more like the originals, rather than alternate renditions, of the initial songs themselves; it is difficult to shake the feeling that Chariot Stripped
was the outcome of Gavin having done a double take on his 2003 release, and deciding that the world should hear his music as it was intended.
I tend to notice a trend in modern pop artistes, in that good pop successfully borrows from other genres while never emulating them entirely; great pop artists readily showcase their influences, yet somehow make it abundantly clear to their audiences that their music comes from no one but themselves. Amidst what can arguably be called a steady flow of generic pop that tends towards whatever newfangled trend the airwaves have been conquered by, it is a breath of fresh air to discover an artist who truly puts himself out there in his own way, fitting almost seamlessly into the crowd yet being just different enough to make him special – overall, I’d say that with Chariot
DeGraw did just that. Though the album has its flaws and, in my opinion didn’t live up to the classic it could have been, it still proves Gavin DeGraw one hell of a singer-songwriter, and one can only wait to see the heights to which he will scale from here.