MANKATO — Jason Gray has had some time to think about his latest album.
Several years ago, the singer/songrwriter approached his record label — the prominent, Nashville-based Centricity Music — about his idea to record original, Christmas-themed songs. They told him to wait and build more radio recognition.
So in the meantime, the Janesville native continued to write and record the brand of contemporary Christian music that had already turned him into a national commodity. His last two releases — 2009’s “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue” and 2011’s “A Way to See in the Dark” — were critical successes. The top single of the latter album, “Remind Me Who I Am,” became a top 10 hit on Christian radio and compelled the Star Tribune to recently call Gray “maybe our state’s most-played radio star of the moment.”
Gray approached Centricity again in November of 2011. This time they agreed.
Now, Gray is on his first-ever solo tour supporting the album — titled “Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy” — and he stops in Mankato today.
“The Christmas story has become so familiar,” Gray said, “that it can have an ethereal, fairytale-like quality to it. My hope is to humanize it and show how these stories actually happened to people a lot like you and me.”
Gray is no slouch as an armchair theologian.
His blog posts for The Rabbit Room — a vibrant online community of Christian artists — are thoughtful, researched and literate. His lyrics reflect a pastor’s eye for storytelling and his musings in interviews and on his website are sprinkled with both secular and religious insight.
So, it’s no surprise he approached his Christmas album with purpose and meaning.
Gray’s “Christmas Stories” features mostly original material with a handful of traditional favorites. The originals delve into the hearts of Christmas’ lesser-sung characters while the traditionals carry the momentum between stories. The result is a thoughtful approach to an all-too-often mechanical musical exercise.