Macy Gray • The Way • Kobalt • US Release Date: October 7, 2014
Everyone ought to applaud Macy Gray. The R&B artist has been incredibly prolific since her multiplatinum debut album, On How Life Is. That seminal R&B album would win Gray her sole Grammy for “I Try,” a song that is a pop cultural, musical staple ‘til this day. Unfortunately, despite numerous other enjoyable records and her output, “I Try” has been the only legitimate hit for Gray. The same could be said of On How Life Is. Still, Gray continues to grind even with a greatly diminished fan base.
The Way, remarkably, is Gray’s eighth studio album. In addition to being her eighth album, it is her first album of originals since 2010 LP, The Sellout. Through and through, The Way still presents the distinctly voiced musician as one of a kind who can’t be duplicated. The material isn’t always elite per se, but The Way has its moments if nothing else.
Definitive tracks – aka highlights – are kind of far and few between on the way. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good tracks, but it means that few pop out. The two undisputed gems come through the lengthy, but worthwhile “Queen of The Big Hurt” and “Me With You.” Both these tracks allow for Gray to shine, thanks to their soulfulness. “Queen of the Big Hurt” hearkens back to her best material from 1999, while “Me With You” has neo-soul written all over it, allowing for Gray’s voice to sound truly beautiful and compelling.
Other songs, like “Bang Bang” are interesting, with Gray’s pipes sounding particularly gritty. It lacks the polish of the later “Queen of the Big Hurt” or “Me With You,” but sticks more than many of the other records. Likewise “Hands” and title track “The Way” have potential, even if they don’t quite distinguish themselves as ‘cream of the crop.’
“Stoned” gives Gray that alt-pop/soul record, but opens the album somewhat off-putting. A song the caliber of “Why Didn’t You Call Me” from On How Life Is would’ve been a better, more enthusiastic fit. Then there’s a song like “I Miss The Sex” which is just ‘too much’ for it’s own good. The soulfulness is appreciated, particularly the groove, but there’s that feeling that it could’ve been even more focused and polished. Gray’s performance is playful, maybe to the extreme where more vocal focus would’ve resonated more.
Ultimately, The Way is what it is – a good, but not an innovative, game-changing album. It will please over Gray’s faithful base, but won’t suddenly make the 47-year old relevant again. Perhaps that’s not even Gray’s goal any more – she likely merely wants to continue making music. That, she easily accomplishes on The Way.
Favorites: “Hands,””Bang Bang,” “Queen of the Big Hurt” & “Me With You”