Jason Gray, the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter, makes a triumphant return with his latest release, "Land of the Living," marking his first full-length album in three years.
Unlike his previous concept-driven album, "Order Disorder Reorder," Gray takes a different approach with "Land of the Living." On the new album, Gray is less of a host and more of a participant in the stories he's telling. Rather than leading listeners on a journey revolving around a central theme as he did with 2020's Order Disorder Reorder, this album is pop-friendly and radio-ready.
"Concept albums tend to ask something of the listener," Gray says regarding Land of the Living's predecessor. "This record is a little bit more, 'Thank you for your attention. That was the meat. Let's have a little dessert.'"
The album's heart lies in Gray's ability to dive into the complexities of the human experience within the confines of a three-minute pop song.
For each of the dozen tracks on Land of the Living, Gray always asks one question when he walks into a writing room: How do we tell the truth today? Yet, he proposes another question that's often a quicker route to the heart of the matter: What are we afraid to talk about today?
He discovered the answer to that question when he wrote "Worth Staying For," arguably the most personal song of his career.
Written with Andy Gullahorn, the autobiographical selection uncovers Gray's scars as he shares his fear of abandonment, a wound inflicted in his childhood when his father left and that was reopened years later during a painful divorce.
"I was scared to release that one," he confesses, "because as a writer, you don't want to be the victim or the hero of your songs." Gray ultimately holds himself accountable as he traces the trauma from its point of entry to the ways "pain will be transmitted if it doesn't get transformed."
The album covers a range of topics, from exploring Psalm 27 on the title track to addressing childlike wonder in "When I Grow Up," celebrating biblical manhood in "Good Man," and wrestling with doubt in "Questions."
Lead single "Place For Me," produced and engineered by GRAMMY Award-winning Jeff Sojka (Jeremy Camp, Crowder) and mixed by Sean Moffit (Chris Tomlin, NEEDTOBREATHE), was created out of Gray's reflections on the church, acknowledging both its flaws and its potential as a refuge for sinners and saints alike.
"At its best, the church offers a place of belonging based on our need for grace, for each other, for help and for guidance," Gray says of the message behind the upbeat offering he co-wrote with Matt Armstrong and Ethan Hulse. "It's where different people, who don't necessarily agree with each other, come together and manage to point their hearts in the same direction for a couple hours every week, and that's beautiful."
Gray sees his role as a songwriter differently on this album. Moving away from self-expression, he aims to love his audience well by providing words that may help them express their own emotions and experiences.
"I now see songwriting as trying to offer healing language to the world," Gray says. "It makes it less egocentric. It's not about me expressing myself. Instead, it's about me trying to love my audience well by writing words that might help them express things they need better language for."