Pop music needs more Macy Grays. For someone who has inexplicably only had one large pop hit, “I Try”, from her stellar debut album On How Life Is, she consistently puts outs out quality albums that are true albums and not just filler for one or two hits. She has a truly unique voice and character that does certain things others just can’t. Why she’s singing about feeling hurt, we feel those tears. When she’s feeling joy, you *hear* her smiling. Macy took a moment out for just a bit in 2012 to make not one, but two excellent covers albums. Rather than sticking to safe material or “standards”, Uncovered found Macy reworking “Sail” by Awolnation, “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire, and a list of songs many would not have expected. This was followed by a tribute to Stevie Wonder, and entire cover album tribute to his classic Talking Book, which is actually well worth the listen. But now Macy has returned to what she does best. Macy.
The album leads off with “Stoned”, where Macy turns having the giggles into something charming and romantic. It’s the kind of song only Macy could pull off and have it sound this way. Because of the subject matter you’re probably not going to hear this on the radio anytime soon. But Macy does not care. She knows her true fans are still listening and apparently that is enough to inspire her still. Her rough raspy lower voice and the orchestra swells turn this into a love theme for the hazy times. Now that we’ve been eased in, the guitars and drums get turned up for “Bang Bang”, a sexed up rock song that leaves little to the imagination. Checking the liner notes, this song was co-written with Jason Hill of the band Louis XIV. More importantly to me, he has produced The Killers (Sam’s Town), and The Virgins’ first EP (which was half of their first album – one of my favorites of the 00s). Macy has great taste in her choices here.
“Hands” follows next, and if there’s one song deserving to be big on this album it’s this one. It has a classic feel to the vocals, the guitar, the soulful happy bounce. It’s the audio version of a happy sunshiney day when one is truly in love. But don’t get used to that. Macy gets rather pensive on the next track, “I Miss The Sex”. The music of this one is new for her. It has a sort of a jazzy, rolling bassline, and an almost messy arrangement – which might be bad if it didn’t fit the mood of the subject perfectly. On first listen I thought this would be a track I’d skip, but it unveils more with each listen. Tracy Nelson (blues songstress who wrote “Down So Low” in the 60s) helps on vocals here also. “First Time” rounds out the first half, with all the charm that made us love her in the first place and could easily fit right in on her first album. Oh and Booker T. Jones produced it. Yes, of Booker T. & The M.G.’s! To give it that classic touch.
The second half comes in strong with the title track, where Macy starts “Hey baby, I’ve called to say I gave up that narcotic”, and later ponders the usefulness of men and… switching teams? Yes this is what happens when Macy just says what’s on her mind. But really she’s just trying to find her happiness. Great trumpet on here by Maurice Brown, who has played for the Tedeschi-Trucks band. “Queen of the Big Hurt” is another great track that has a classic soul feel to it – featuring Ledisi on backing vocals (not only a solo artist but she has worked with Prince last year). This definitely feels like her most classic style, if there is such a thing amongst her songs. “Me With You” follows with a little funk bounce to an otherwise lower key piano based song about the one she feels she’s meant to be with.
The final two tracks on this all-too-short album make it worth listening to the album all the way through. She kept two gems for the end. First, “Need You Now” is an uplifting singalong with a touch of sadness. But the clouds open up by the end and leave us all tingly and feeling good. On first listen, not looking at the tracklist, I figured this was the finale, but nope! That would be “Life”. A big celebration of a song that gets across in every possible way that “Life… is… beautiful!” On paper that sounds cheesy. But when Macy wants to get her point across, she does it with style. It’s really hard to be down in the dumps after hearing these last two songs.
The Way is one really solid album to add to a catalog full of quality albums. It’s also one I can already tell I will keep coming back for. The best way I can explain is… that thing Macy does – she does it a lot here – and she does it well. Some might consider it a great shame that the radio doesn’t seek out songs like these. But then again, that left of center quirkiness that makes Macy loveable as an artist isn’t cookie-cutter. The Way is the real deal. It’s a red velvet cupcake in a pile of sugar cookies.
Get your copy of The Way HERE:
Check out the videos…
and also a Radio interview (video) from a couple of weeks ago featuring acoustic performnces of “I Try” and “Stoned”: