By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After selling 15 million albums worldwide and winning a Grammy over her 12-year career, Macy Gray has taken a break from singing her own songs to channel her unique raspy voice in a new direction - singing favorite tunes by other artists.
"Covered" features 10 tracks of popular R&B, soul, rap and rock hits, including lead single "Sail," originally by electro-rock band Awolnation, a duet with Idris Elba on pop singer Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly," and an uptempo jazz-inspired rendition of Kanye West's "Love Lockdown."
"I figured if I did a solo album of R&B, everyone would expect that already, and it turns out I'm a huge rock 'n' roll fan anyway, so I just picked ten of my favorite songs, then we went in and totally redid them," Gray told Reuters.
Gray, 44, shot to fame in 1999 when her soul-pop single "I Try," from her debut album "On How Life Is," became a chart-topping hit, winning Gray a Grammy in 2001 for best female pop vocal performance.
The singer went on to release four more studio albums between 2001 and 2010, and while none reached the same heights as her debut single, Gray has enjoyed a steady stream of success around the world.
"In my songs, there's a message of freedom, be yourself, lots of individualism, and I think everybody all over the world can relate to things like that, and I have an interesting voice that people wanted to check out at the beginning," Gray said.
For her sixth studio album, released last week, the singer wanted to deliver something different to her fans, opting for covers of songs with her own unique spin on them.
The selected tracks may come as a surprise to Gray's audience, as the singer expands from her soul music niche to cover alternative and pop rock bands, such as British duo Eurythmics, My Chemical Romance and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The tracks are divided up by short, scripted conversations about the making of the album between Gray and her friends. In one, former Pussy Cat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger imitates Britney Spears, Alanis Morissette and Shakira as if they were trying to sing Gray's "I Try."
The singer said she often looks to her three children -- Aanisah, 17, Tahmel, 16 and Happy, 14 -- for musical influences and inspirations, crediting them for bringing Adele and Jack White's new band The Dead Weather to her attention.
"(My children) get on Facebook and share songs and a lot of songs have become popular that way, just from kids liking them and passing them on to their friends, actually kids have been part of the process lately, my kids have definitely shown me a lot of different albums," the singer said.
While Gray names Lady Gaga, Wiz Khalifa and The Black Keys as some of the artists she admires in the current music scene, there's one person in particular that she's really eager to work with, outspoken rapper Kanye West.
"I like his personality. I like his arrogance. I think the world needs people like that who aren't scared to say what's for real, how they really feel, it sets an example for everyone," said Gray.
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy)