Big - Macy Gray 2007

Macy Gray SO rules.  It's only been out for a few weeks, so we'll see how it sifts out in time.  But I've made myself sick from listening to this album repeatedly every day.  If you don't dig Macy, you'd probably not want to be around me much right about now.  This may be the best album she ever made.

For starters, at this point in the spring "Ghetto Love" has the inside track for song of the year.  It is the most ghetto fabulous romance ever put on a record.  It so BIG, so ghetto, and SO fabulous.  It's the hardest and tightest funk Macy has ever put on a record.  Plus, it's one of Macy's best vocal performances.  The devotional bliss in her voice by the ending cries of "We get HIIIIGH together" is just to die for.

This is a very spiritual gangster tale. All the chinchillas and rocks are but romantic costuming for the story of high steppin' lovers.  I particularly appreciate how she took the lyric somewhere, ending with her tribute to how her man has empowered her.  "I never worry when he's gone till November/ He taught me how to keep my hand on the trigger"

Every note of this arrangement counts.  For starters, she opens with a quote of the opening swirling strings of "It's a Man's World," which frames the song emotionally.  Plus, she's got the underlying string commentary throughout the song obviously invoking that.  Then there's that insanely catchy drum part, and that little repeated drum roll that seizes control of my body.  This whole concoction is whipping my ass as hard as anything James ever did.  Uh, that's pretty good right there.

The other song that jumped out on me from the first listen was "Strange Behavior."  Macy has developed a personal specialty in psycho comic songs.  She's got one on every album but her first, and they're always a highlight.  You ain't never heard anything like this.  A few gals might come up with a fine song like "Glad You're Here," but only Macy could have come up with this tale of young newlyweds whose devotion is tested by large tempting life insurance policies.

The arrangement seems to be intended as a lazy seaside groove for the grieving young widow off spending that paper.  There are lots of little subtle effects of comedy, the piano and horns especially.  This is somewhat unusual in that the verses are actually more unique and interesting than the catchy chorus.  She gets a real curious singsong narrative flow to her melody that just works.  "I had a big insurance policy, and he had a big insurance policy...too."  The funniest moment on the album is an exchange as her husband holds a gun on her.  "I said, 'Baby if you get a job you would not have to shoot me now' / He said 'Oh my God, you're such a hata.'"  That sings even far funnier than it reads.  Also, the mawkish devotion of "One for Me" sounds really funny in the album context as the setup for "Strange Behavior."  This comic effect increases the more you listen and think about the change-up.

Macy Gray's unique vocal instrument is her special strong suite.  The nearest thing I can think of to compare to that velvet rasp is Ray Charles.  "Glad You're Here" from Big makes a reasonably close point of comparison.  The nuance of her vocal performance totally sells what might come off as cheap sentimentality out of the mouth of a lesser singer.  If you slowed the tempo just a bit and dropped the vocal register, you'd be getting close to, say, Ray singing "Don't Change on Me."  If you got "Glad You're Here" on a 45 and played it back at 33, you might mistake it for a lost Ray Charles classic.

Lately I've been jamming on a bootlegged mash-up called "Try Breezin."  It's basically the lead vocal of Macy's hit "I Try" laid overtop George Benson's "Breezin."  I wouldn't have thought of such a thing, partly cause I never paid much attention to anything in the range of smooth jazz.  But try some of that George Benson shiznit back to back with Macy's "What I Gotta Do."  This lament of an absentee mother works up a bit more emotion than smooth jazz, but listen to those guitar rhythms and the basic smooth grooves.

This album is excellent song by song, which can lose you the full appreciation of some of this.  In my case, I'm so hooked on "Ghetto Love" that I'm sometimes impatient to skip right to it.  Try listening to these songs in mixes, on the iPod or such.   "Shoo Be Do" is just a superior piece of professional songcraft somewhere in the midtempo Motown range.  That rasp invests the sentiments with good pathos, and all that "shoo be doo" stuff will just jump right out of your mix. Likewise for "Everybody" at the end of the album.  You might be trailing off a bit at the end of this whole tightly packed Macy Gray album, but that pulsing disco bass would be just the right thing to stand alone and start your party.

Even in the middle of the album though, "Okay" jumps out because of the arrangement.  She's got a good tune going, and there's strong pathos in her lament that "we're throwing pots and pans, not holding hands."   But on that framework, she builds up a striking orchestration, starting with the introductory martial drums and on through a cappella bridge.  It will reward your attention to carefully and repeatedly parse out the individual parts of this outstanding arrangement.

Every single song on this album is worthwhile, though I could have done without the lame rap on "Treat Me Like Your Money."  But that's a very minor complaint for an outstanding album.  If you're interested in pop music, you need to hear Big.  Macy Gray RULEZ!





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