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Comparisons of David Gray to Van Morrison abound, and Gray (born in Manchester, raised in Wales, schooled in Liverpool) definitely has that romantic-Celtic-bard thing going. But he’s also a lot like early Elton John, minus the hokey plantation imagery, and like Elton, the smart, well-groomed Gray is in danger of dropping into self-parody. Judging by White Ladder (his 1999 album that hit #1 on the Irish album charts in January), nearly all of Gray’s songs would be perfect backdrops for film scenes of some lovelorn working-class lout moping under the lamplights of a dying industrial town (and as it turns out, five of the White Ladder tracks were part of a soundtrack—for 1999’s This Year’s Love, in which an ensemble of thirtysomethings bedswaps in bedsits in London’s Camden Town). Even if White Ladder’s a little stagy for your tastes, don’t write off Gray altogether; he’s an energetic performer, and, unlike that downhill racer Van the Man, he’s likely got a long and healthy performing future. Incidently, if you haven’t heard the single yet, pay close attention while shopping—”Babylon” has been getting airplay on Muzak stations. With Joseph Arthur at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $15. (202) 393-0930. (Pamela Murray Winters)