From the beginning, Macy Gray has pushed at the boundaries of contemporary R&B. Whether cutting said genre with disco, alternative rock, hip-hop, pop, blues, or jazz, Gray never stops at ordinary. As a result, she has become one of the most definitive voices of popular music in recent memory.
Her ninth long player, Stripped (Chesky), is succinct in its presentation and execution.
The nine tracks dotting the record are brought to life by Ari Hoenig (drums), Wallace Roney (trumpet), Russell Malone (guitar), and Daryl Johns (bass). All of this is led by Gray’s distinctively sweet, dusky vocal as she recasts, revisits and creates on this project. In short, she marries her songwriting and interpretive skills in one place.
Included on Stripped is a cache of Gray’s material culled from her first four LPs: “I Try” (On How Life Is, Epic 1999), “Sweet Baby” (The id, Epic 2001), “She Ain’t Right for You” (The Trouble with Being Myself, Epic 2003), and “Slowly” (Big, Geffen 2007). Sonically, these songs, like the LP en masse, are dressed down, seductively set against brushed drums, evocative guitar and bass picking, and brass splashes. This setup allows Gray’s voice to become centrally melodic to the songs, and while these versions don’t conquer the originals, they’re complementary.
As stated, Gray has shined interpreting the works of others. Her sixth and seventh albums ― Covered (429) and Talking Book (429) ― both released in 2012 respectively, were ambitious. The former found Gray tackling unconventional selections from various pop / rock canons, while the latter was an alluring reworking of Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album.
With those two albums under her belt, Gray is able to set her own emotional spell on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Additionally, Gray gives another take on a firm favorite of hers, Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”
Initially, the song was handled by Gray on the stated Covered record; the Stripped version is adapted to the record’s jazz / blues medium and transitions well.
“Lucy,” “Annabelle,” “First Time,” and “The Heart” are the original compositions. They’re passionately written story songs about love and human vices, topics Gray has specialized in for 16 years across, now, nine recordings. Gray is reportedly already hammering out her 10th album, due in 2017. Stripped acts as proof that Gray’s style has become a blueprint on making, and playing, by one’s own set of artistic rules to achieve longevity.
Stripped is available on September 9.