Macy Gray ‘Stripped’ (Chesky) 4/5

macy-grayWhen I was first told about this, I was told it was a ‘Jazz’ album by Macy Gray. I often take such forays by pop artists into the world of jazz with a handful of salt. In one sense it can bother me because I ask: is that artist or label trivialising the music I hold so very dear to my very being? Or do they see making a jazz album as a peak of their career and artistic achievements? Those are questions I will continue to grapple with for years to come, I’m sure.
Let me start by telling you that this is NOT Macy Gray singing jazz. This is instead an album of Ms Gray singing some songs very pleasantly accompanied by a quartet of jazz musicians. And before you say it, I will butt in and say no that is NOT the same thing! It is particularly nice when those jazz musicians happen to be Russell Malone, Wallace Roney, Art Hoenig & Daryl Johns though.
The overall effect of listening to this recording leaves you in a nice, comfortable and serene place. The songs are all well executed and whilst nothing totally surprises you in the kind of sound that is produce here, you do get a sense that the pieces have been individually selected and not randomly chosen from a batch.
She very nicely chooses two of her old tunes (‘I Try’ & ‘Slowly’) and gives it to the jazz quartet to smooth out the creases, turning it into a most relaxed affair as she lends her voice once again to her hit songs of old.

‘She ain’t right for you’ is nicely reggaefied – something which I admit often makes me cringe a little but hearing it on this album makes me think otherwise. It fits in and sounds absolutely fine.

‘First Time’ is a love song that draws the listener in from the first few bars of Russell Malone’s gorgeous guitar. The guitar is featured throughout the song and is the co-star here with Gray ably accompanied by a subtle drums and bass – a very beautiful piece.

Heavy metal group Metallica is drawn into the fold with Macy covering their song ‘Nothing Else Matters’ which gets a total shuffling jazz makeover completed with a nice 1950’s Miles Davis sounding solo from Wallace Roney. My verdict here is that it totally works!

Macy, apparently, has been singing Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ at concerts since hurricane Katrina and whilst that song should technically work on this album, it is the most incongruous track on here. It just sticks out too much. And whilst at the top I said that the songs for this album seemed to have been carefully selected for this release, I feel ‘Redemption Song’ was more an emotional choice for understandable reasons.

‘Lucy’ rounds out the album and I will leave it up to the listener to make of the lyrics what he or she wants to. The song is another well written, well performed and very classy piece of music – it’s just such a nice song.

The recording sound of this album definitely harks back to those jazz recordings of the 50’s and 60’s with the instruments making their presence felt but not being too intrusive – with that air of ‘space’ between the instruments as though you’re hearing the whole group in a good sized but half empty hall. Macy’s voice does not sound its full-bodied self and I just wonder whether she was told to take it down a notch or two. I sincerely hope not. Her too subtle voice was a little disappointing to me but I don’t think it will spoil anyone’s enjoyment.

Christmas stocking fillers here we come but if you get this in yours, you could do a heck of a lot worst.

Sammy Goulbourne