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]

1 comment:

And. said...

Another superb write up of a extremely under estimated singer. I hope the exposure on 'Dancing With' will be the platform she needs to enhance her career. 'Finally Made Me Happy' deserves a special mention.. that note at the end that Natalie Cole hits.. Wow.