Macy Gray, "Stripped" (Chesky Records)
Macy Gray reinterprets some of her hits with a jazz combo on "Stripped," seasoned with a few new songs and Bob Marley and Metallica covers.
Gray's patented purr-and-growl vocals thrive in the intimate setting and the well-chosen repertoire, with trumpeter Wallace Roney and bassist Daryl Johns skillfully coloring the quartet's arrangements.
Recorded in-the-round with a single microphone and no overdubs in a deconsecrated Brooklyn church, the album launches with "Annabelle," a bluesy new tune apt for a speakeasy. Gray really does sound at home in this setting, with engineer Nicholas Pratt achieving a sweet balance between singer and band.
Holly Cole could tackle the double bass-led take of "I Try," Gray's biggest hit, while Madeleine Peyroux should consider covering the passionate reggae slant of "She Ain't Right for You."
Gray imbues Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" with a deep melancholy that never wilts, as inventive solos from guitarist Russell Malone and, especially, Roney, provide elevation. Marley's "Redemption Song" gets a faithful reading, Gray applying the same successful approach she uses throughout the album — honest vocals without mannerisms, just straightforward communication and all the more effective for it.
Gray says she's open to using the no-frills recording approach in the future. If she writes or finds the right songs, there is no reason why it shouldn't be a similar triumph.