Brand New Day
“There are castles in my sand, and I got a horn section in my band,” Macy Gray speaksings with palpable excitement on “Over You,” one of the many jazzy R&B standouts on her new LP, Ruby. It gleams like a pristinely produced jewel in comparison to Gray’s aptly named 2016 LP, Stripped, which consisted of raw, overdub-free takes from the singer and a small band. Ruby finds the 50-year-old R&B vet (best known for her 1999 hit “I Try”) nimbly navigating between the old and new. Prime example: “Tell Me,” on which Gray sings over Louis Armstrongesque braying horns, before a skittering trap beat seeps in.
A pair of Ruby tracks stand above the rest. “White Man” begins with subdued jazz, as Gray assertively threatens bigots: “I’ll whip your woooooo.” That wordless moan may be devoid of meaning on paper, but in the singer’s hands, it contains chilling multitudes. Ruby’s other can’t-miss track is “Witness,” which begins with piano notes and a tight loop of indecipherable hums that slowly simmer with intensity. It’s a gripping beginning, and from there Gray and her band draw on elements of reggae to knock out an epic bal- lad. Even though her days of radio dominance are behind her, she sounds bolder and more creative than ever on this new LP. (Mack Avenue, www.mackavenue.com)
Ruby is much more elaborate than Stripped. What inspired that?
Stripped was one mic, myself and the musicians, and we just did takes, no overdubbing or mixing. It was something I always wanted to do. But Ruby is a fully produced pop album, and the process was totally different.
While the pop element is evident, you don’t shy away from tough topics, especially on “White Man.”
That one’s about today being a new day, and how people that aren’t caught up to that, it’s very sad for them. But my response to them is: “I’m not my grandmother, this isn’t the ’50s, and I don’t have to sit back and take it.” The most important line on that song is: “They’re hating me and I don’t understand.” That’s real personal for me, because I just don’t get racism. I mean, everybody has laughed at racial jokes and stuff like that. But to hate someone, and wish them bad and act on that hate? I don’t get how you can feel that way.