Macy Gray. The Way
Kobalt Records, 2014. Macy Gray: http://macygray.com/
Macy Gray has the joie de vivre to create within her. Even with a sizable career and stream of past exploits the woman has continued to move forward, with more sentiment than ever present in her creations. This album breaks early and surfs on verse after verse, sweeping you along with it. One way to describe the vivacity of "The Way" is by interpreting it is as though Macy Gray was staring down the God of Dispassion and telling it to go screw itself.
There are ten tracks to traverse on this release, each in and of themselves flipsides to the dreariness and angst found in the content of incredibly successful yet depressed megabands. The mood on Gray's The Way is charged not only because of its lyrical content and rhythm but because of its aim, to move and flex across its emotions and impulses.
Power lights the horizon immediately when first appraising The Way with your ears. One could put this album on shuffle while on a road trip and have a good time with whatever popped up. And speaking of which, let's do that now.
You might toss and turn at night after hearing number 4's "I Miss the Sex," a mournful yet elegant number that is probably one of the more profound, original pieces about the deed that's been written in a while. There's longing in the air but nothing too melodramatic. The second track, "Bang Bang," does indeed please with full-blown, toothed guitar riffs, burning more with attitude as it goes on. I could easily hear an instrumental of this one playing during an episode of Cowboy Bebop with the gritty style behind its sound.
Track six "The Way" starts out sounding like a very particular portion of Irving Berlin's "The Near Future" but then shoots a boost into the tempo and leaves questions hanging on its notes. "Hands" brings about thoughts of what it might be like to be in the center of a roller disco in the seventies, making it one of the bouncier songs on the album. "Life is beautiful" sings Gray on the final track of the album, repeated again and again with a basic message that cuts a path of feeling through the oft inevitable and dithering melancholy the world can throw at us, the perfect foe to be countered with music.
The remaining tracks have just as much intrigue and allure in them. Flitting from one song to the next whets the appetite and with each one truly being different from the next you get a variety that is as toned as it is successful. The texture is an accomplishment that really sets itself apart from the standard stock of any genre where the tendency to stick to the same path time after time appears too tempting to resist, making Gray's work all the more laudable here.
"The Way" holds up well when compared to past releases by Gray, and the rust of predictability doesn't show around the edges for this fare. It's distinct from what she's done before and though it's strong I couldn't say I found it as memorable as some of the content on the her 2010 release The Sellout. Is there cross-over for some of the subject matter? Yes, but it is expressed differently enough that it's a whole new landscape to deal with, and if appraised on its own or as a continuation of past themes on other albums it makes sense. Regardless, this is a fully-developed disc that continues Gray's evolution as an artist, enough that by the end you are encouraged to wonder where she is creatively heading to next.
The technical merits of this album, as with the previous ones, are as huge as they are complicated, with a sizable mass of producers, engineers, musicians, and others behind the construction of each song. There are extremes out there for the recording process, with the punk rockers and rappers on one end carving out their musical inspirations in a bare bones basement or warehouse, and then there is the other avenue where the business is done in a professional recording studio or two to get the desired sheen where it should be. Miss Gray would be the latter for this one so those seeking something with an indy sound and feel would do well to plumb the far realm of elsewhere.
And then of course there is the alchemical marvel that is Gray's voice itself. It can only be attributed to collective unconscious blunder why this woman has not been compared more with other singers and musicians that use their voices the way they so desired, types like Tom Waits and Ma Rainey. A gut reaction might find such a comparison oblique but Gray really does possess her own beauty in delivery that balances between smooth and gruff in a nuanced way, and such skill places her among the greats that know how to do that. Simply put, her style is an experience that's a welcome deviation from the norm.
People already know who Macy Gray is most likely because of past hits like "I Try" and they have all the more reason to continue knowing her most recent work by giving The Way some good listens. For a time Marilyn Manson was in the same high school with her, she has appeared not only in Spiderman but Training Day, and even has a bronze nude of herself that resides in her garage, but for all the glory Macy Gray has in her life already she can say that she's got even more to give with her newest release. There's splendor here and a vintage aftershock in your memory that reverberates long after the last song finishes.
Personnel: Macy "Natalie Renée McIntyre" Gray (Vocals, Producer), Royal Z (Producer and various instruments), Jason Hill (Producer), Booker T. Jones (Producer), Zoux (Producer), and many, many others.
Tracks: Stoned, Bang Bang, Hands, I Miss the Sex, First Time, The Way, Queen of the Big Hurt, Me with You, Need You Now, Life.