By Mike Dunn
Mack Avenue Records
Having carved out a career of hyper-smart pop, rhythm ‘n’ blues and jazz records, Macy Gray returns with her 10th release, Ruby. It’s a collection that veers deftly through a number of styles, continuously showing off Gray’s trademark smoky vocals that makes its mark on every number.Through the first three cuts, Gray strikes a funky groove, culminating on the knockout fourth cut “White Man,” where she lets loose on the preconceived notions of ignorance with a bass-driven chorus hook hinging on the line, “I’ll whip you whoooooo,” which is probably the most perfect subversive line to drop on a catchy chorus.
The album then drifts beautifully into the swaying Preservation Hall balladry of “Tell Me,” awash in saucy clarinets and muted trumpet. A very cool move follows on the excellent “Sugar Daddy,” with Gray maintaining the “Tell Me” key signature, adding tonal continuity. The song itself is some hip, pocket neo-soul, with a Ronettes-style girl group hitting sweet shabooms and one of the most hummable, fun choruses on the record. “Jealousy” feels like a classic doo-wop before the bass drops, a line that walks in and out of chords, cheating a lot of motion around the laid back four-groove that hangs like an old Al Jackson Jr. Cut.
If Macy Gray isn’t a household name, perhaps that’s by her own design. Her willingness, at least on Ruby, to say whatever she wants and be iconoclastic with her immediately identifiable voice and ability to sing in a number of styles, ought to position her as one of our time’s more noteworthy pop artists. On Ruby, the hooks, great songs and sonic left turns serve the art form itself, rather than some self-serving, mirror-glued, gimme-more version of assembly line pop.Mack Avenue Records, Macy Gray, Record Review, Ruby