For the better part of eight months Macy Gray, the R&B/Soul singer-songwriter with that uniquely-scratchy voice, recorded her new album Covered: A collection of remakes of popular rock songs.
And for eight years she's been remaking her image. After a four-year hiatus, she debuted her 2007 album Big, which won the critics, and again in 2010 with The Sellout. Now, in 2012, Gray has fully chiseled herself as more than a one-hit wonder or a unique firecracker of talent dying out after the initial pop.
She leads off the album with a digitized dalliance of the Eurythmics' 1983 "Here Comes the Rain Again" as a drumless, horn section rendering of the original and spreads an ominous tone over the track. Annie Lennox's lyrics have never before sounded so haunting, as if Macy is turning something harmless like "talk to me" into a contract with the devil.
Continuing on with a very disturbing tone is the reimagining of Radiohead's "Creep", which is already poignant enough. Gray's decision to not hold the notes, like Thom Yorke before her, and cut the words short in single breaths adds a value of emotion — a personal touch that seems like it means something real to her. This is what makes Macy Gray an original; a true songbird, distressed and hanging by her own qualities and interpretations. Everything feels exclusive to her as a person.
1. Here Comes the Rain Again
3. You Want Them Nervous — (skit featuring J.B. Smoove)
4. Smoke Two Joints
5. La La La (Teaching the Kids) — (featuring Layann Al Saud, Avery Albert, Happy Hinds and Sienna Steiber)
7. The Power of Love — (featuring Hugh Salk)
8. Nothing Else Matters
10. I Try Is Cool and All, but… — (skit featuring Nicole Scherzinger)
12. Love Lockdown/Buck
13. Mel Rap — (featuring Mel Hinds)
14. Bubbly — (featuring Idris Elba)
15. Wake Up
16. Really? — (skit featuring MC Lyte)
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What is most surprising is her choice of turning Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" into a Nina Simone-esque blues ballad, still keeping the somber tones, but preaching more about general heartbreak than personal heartache. Gray evolves the song into a gust of gut-wrenching soul artistry registering on deep levels of sadness.
And then, something happens, something changes. It's as if a funeral has passed in the streets and a transition to celebration begins.
Gray picks up with a clever skit with Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls) about how she is only known for her late '90s hit "I Try."
And then comes "Maps", originally conceived by Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2003. Still mysterious in its tones, but peppy in its step, the song's choruses are snappy steps away from Karen O's stripped downbeat of an indie original.
And then Gray gets even more creative with a mash-up of Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" set to the music of Nina Simone's "Buck," giving birth to a head-bobbing R&B piece that splashes a dazzling spot on the record.
To really add to the randomness of the whole album and the quasi-brightness of the last half of the tracks, the lovable beach tune "Bubbly" stays charming, but also develops into a bittersweet grownup ditty with actor Idris Elba, Britain's George Clooney, joining in song.
Gray sets up real estate in the music world with this album, rather than seeming like she's renting a space. Her trippy spins on powerful compositions become inimitable ballads attuned to her talents.
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