Macy Gray. Talking Book.
429 Records, 2012. Macy Gray: http://www.macygray.com/
Anytime a musical artist takes on the task of covering another artist's work, there is a certain amount of risk involved. And when the work being covered is something as well known as Stevie Wonder's Talking Book, which includes tracks such as “You the Sunshine of My Life” and “Superstition,” the risk rises exponentially. Macy Gray sends a "love letter" to Stevie Wonder on the 40th anniversary of his 1972 release Talking Book. Gray is not shy about this endeavor. She not only covers the "hits" but the entire album track for track. If this shows anything at all about Gray, it indicates she is a risk taker at the very least. It speaks volumes about her appreciation of the effect that Wonder has had on her career.
Please allow the novice reviewer a little leeway in the following observations:
1) As for Ms. Gray's singing voice, she herself has stated that she hates it. As one New Yorker magazine reviewer said, "It's like honey with a few of the stingers left in it." So, get over it.
2) Few recording artists have the vocal pipes of a Stevie Wonder, especially in their prime.
3) Nearly all recording artists have augmented their voices either via technology or the producer's/recording engineer's input.
It's this third observation that really comes to the forefront on this particular recording. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account for each track on this CD, the sum total is a very mixed bag.
There are a few generalities that really stand out. The production on Macy Gray too often allows the instrumentals, backup singers and the level of echo to drown out her vocals. This is particularly noticeable on “You've Got It Bad Girl,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” and especially “Superstition.” Let’s examine this last track. In Mr. Wonder's version his work with the synthesizer, his clear give-and-take with the horns section and the instrumental in general are the strong points that provide the funk on this track. One expects some dramatic and creative license on a tribute album. There's a balance to avoid reinventing the wheel and the pressure to surpass the original. In this instance, Ms. Gray's slower tempo which gives the track a dreamier twist, is again thwarted in the mixing as it overwhelms her voice to the point where the vocal overdubbing becomes a distraction.
Macy Gray really shines the on the ballads, most notably on “Big Brother,” as her voice is very suitable to the original. On this piece, the percussion and rhythm sections truly shine. In “Blame It on the Sun,” the clear vocals and gospel like backup singing truly do justice to Stevie Wonder's version. Another high point for her vocal range is “Looking for Another Pure Love.”
The final track on the album, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love)” is truly the high point of this
endeavor. The harmony on both renditions are complementary and on Gray's version the choir
like backup is a positive addition.
To conclude, other than the over-exuberance of the engineering, to release a complete cover album of a legend is a tough row to hoe. North Canton's Macy Gray deserves credit not only for the attempt, but also the results.
Performers: Macy Gray (vocals), Zoux (Hammond, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, clavinet, Moog, programing), Mike Torres (bass), Martin Estrada (acoustic and electric guitars), Ronald “RJ” Kelly (drums), Marina Bambino (percussion), Dan Brantigan (trumpets), various backing vocalists.
Tracks: You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Maybe Your Baby, You and I (We Can Conquer the World), Tuesday Heartbreak, You’ve Got It Bad Girl, Superstition, Big Brother, Blame It on the Sun, Lookin’ for Another Pure Love, I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever).