Monday, September 21, 2009

10 Years of Macy Gray

Macy Gray stepped into the spotlight riding the crest of the neo-soul wave in modern R&B. Gray hasn't been a large commercial presence past her debut, but she's crafted consistent albums since her arrival in 1999. The recordings play as vibrant and wild as they did when released and with this decade winding down, these albums should be celebrated.

Her debut, the Grammy winning On How Life Is (Epic, 1999) certified platinum three times in the United States alone. A whipped blend of retro soul-jazz and hip-hop made up Life, and Ms. Gray's inimitable singing matched the arrangements. The confessional hit "I Try" is as effective as ever alongside the thumpers "Caligula" and "Sex-o-matic Venus Freak."

In 2001, Gray's creative checkmate with The Id (Epic, 2001) suggested she wasn't just another flash in the pan. The Id, a colorful, cartoonish update of '70's funk boasted bold romanticism ("My Nutmeg Phantasy") and fearless abandon in style dabbling ("Sexual Revolution"). "Sexual Revolution" had an elastically voiced Gray tear into the track with humor and panache, one of the lost singles of this decade.  If On How Life Is was the seduction, The Id the actual act, than The Trouble with Being Myself (Epic, 2003) was the blissful afterglow.

To date, Trouble is Gray's most balanced effort, managing to dial down the overt attitude of The Id without sacrificing Gray's freakish musical explorations.  The introspective "Happiness" bears a weight that Gray's work didn't possess in abundance. That emotional nudity is portrayed in "Things That Made Me Change" and "Speechless." The arrangements aren't so much sparse on these songs as just right. Gray's inward travels didn't stop her from bumping hard on the block party starters "When I See You" and "She Don't Write Songs About You."

A customary best of, via contractual obligation on Epic's end, came in 2004. There were two new songs included, the lovely violin valentine "Love Is Gonna Get You" and her Sly & the Family Stone inspired take of Aerosmith's evergreen song "Walk This Way." Partnered with (of the Black Eyed Peas), Gray released her fourth album, BIG (Geffen, 2007). Her tamest effort at the time of this writing, Gray tailored her eccentric R&B to adult soul well. She sparkled on ballads like "Slowly" and "One For Me," her range as a singer demonstrated deftly. The violent bombast of "Ghetto Love" is the "Gray of old," replete with its brilliant interpolation of James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World."

"Sexual Revolution"
Directed By: Bryan Barber

The two years after BIG have been quiet for Macy Gray, though rumors of an album to include the hilariously titled "Slap a Bitch" are floating around. Gray also enrolled recently in the hit show Dancing with the Stars. What this will mean for her as a singer, one can't know just yet. However, if Gray is to never step foot into another recording booth, she has left behind four strong albums that will continue to intrigue.-QH

[Editor's Note: All of Macy Gray's albums are still readily in print, and can be easily located at any music retailer.-QH]

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Pointers Sisters: Remastered in 2009

An investigative listen into the annals of The Pointer Sisters (Bonnie, June, Ruth, and Anita) indicate that they're one of the most versatile girl groups ever.

Whether it was jazz washed in disco or rock-soul-new-wave, The Pointer Sisters have done everything under the sun musically. Three albums from The Pointer Sisters golden transitional period have been resurrected by the reissue label Wounded Bird Records. Energy (Planet, 1978), Priority (Planet, 1979), and Black & White (Planet, 1981) are important to The Pointer Sisters tale.

After the pleasant holding pattern of Havin' a Party (Blue Thumb, 1977), and the departure of sister Bonnie for a solo career, Anita, Ruth, and June reconvened. They ditched the vintage pastiche and became rock 'n' roll glamazons. Pairing with Richard Perry (Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, Diana Ross) and signing to his Planet Records imprint, all parties were ready to reinvent.

Energy, a high class, if raucous covers record hosted  their version of "Fire," originally from Bruce Springsteen. It became a Pointers staple. Slow burning and smoky, Anita's lead propelled the single to become a hit with both pop and R&B radio formats. The Allan Touissant penned "Happiness" was a synth funk burst of flirtatiousness, while "Dirty Work" leaned toward a country approach in its guitar play. With songs like these, The Pointer Sisters turned Energy into a surprise success.

Unfortunately, their second album of rock readings, Priority, didn't court commercial victory. Perry's production (he'd stay on with the Pointers through 1988) wrapped the Pointers in blues chic, the sisters, Ruth especially, sounded right at home on "Who Do You Love" a gospel gasper.

The Pointers smoothed things out with Special Things (Planet, 1980), on that long player resided "He's So Shy." Special Things was reissued by Wounded Bird Records in 2007 and is currently out of print, (yours truly of course has a copy). That leads us to Black & White, which included the "Fire" styled "Slow Hand," another hit.  Additional highlights included the light lowering jam "What a Surprise" and playful dancer "Sweet Lover Man (Now)," performed coyly by the tarty June. Included as a bonus track from the sessions of Black & White, previously unreleased, is a version of "Holdin' Out For Love," a song that has seen life in the hands of Cher and Angela Bofill .

Pointers @ BBC's Russell Harty Performing "Slow Hand," Circa 1981

The release of these records is important in today's musical landscape that thrives on unoriginality. Hearing The Pointer Sisters so vivacious in 2009 is a true treat, it may serve as an example others looking to send popular music spinning on a dare again like these women did.-QH

[Editor's Note: For more information on The Pointer Sisters, visit Energy, Priority, and Black & White are available at all indie and online music retailers/outlets.-QH