RECORDINGS Quick Spins
Tenyears ago, Jack Ingram’s swaggering mix of Texas twang and Southern rock had people heralding him as the next Steve Earle. That didn’t happen, and looking back now — and even with Earle producing Ingram’s breakthrough album — it probably wasn’t fair to expect that it would. Ingram is neither the writer Earle is, nor does he have his fellow Texan’s firebrand persona. He’s best at making gritty, crowd-pleasing roots music, which is just what — apart from two or three slick ready-mades — his new album delivers.
The track that sounds most out of place on the record is “Lips of an Angel,” a cover of a hackneyed ballad by arenarockers Hinder. Both it and the midtempo love song “Wherever You Are” smack of being late-minute additions in a bid for mainstream airplay. But just about everything else here — the pressing rhythms, the rugged vocals, the hard-charging guitars — could pass for prime Steve Earle, notably the Outlaw blues of “Love You” and the wry, restless troubadour rock of “Easy as 1, 2, 3 (Part II).”
“Ava Adele,” a spare, steel guitarsweetened ballad, offers a nice change of pace midway through the program, and “All I Can Do,” the album’s closing track, makes judicious use of horns after the fashion of the best Southern pop. Most of what’s here, though, is rocking country music sung in a gruff, conversational delivery reminiscent of another Texas torchbearer, Jerry Jeff Walker. Tackling themes ranging from intimacy and commitment to lessons learned, “This Is It” is mostly grown-up stuff, bracing and full of conviction. DOWNLOAD THESE: “Love You,” “Easy as 1, 2, 3 (Part II),” “All I Can Do”
MacyBIG Macy Gray THIS IS IT Jack Ingram
DOWNLOAD THESE: “Get Out,” “Okay,” “Finally Made Me Happy”
— Bill Friskics-Warren
Gray has been straightening up her act, and her hair, to show that her latest album, “Big,” is a polished, mature effort divorced from her well-documented erratic antics.
Gray is so serious about the makeunder that she has enlisted the help of Natalie Cole, patron saint of wayward divas, who successfully transitioned from substance abuser to model of R&B respectability. With Cole’s assistance, Gray is classy yet still provocative on album-opener “Finally Made Me Happy,” an upside-down torch song that leaves her peculiarities intact.
By hooking up with several new collaborators (including Will.I.Am) and dropping old ones (drugs?), Gray administers the perfect, carefully controlled dose of her quirkiness — “Big” falls squarely between her sanitized 1999 debut and 2001’s unhinged “The Id.”
The production team of Will.I.Am and Justin Timberlake — the JAWBreakers — are most adept at channeling Gray’s strangeness. On “Okay,” a military snare drum that mellows into a polite knock turns a single mother’s lament into an eclectic dance track. The chorus of “Get Out,” is just another pop recycling of Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” but the electro patty-cake rhythm of the track makes for, as Macy tells us, “the beat of the century — made by Justin.”
“Big” is not without the middling, inoffensive songs that have made Gray a favorite of sitcom music supervisors (“Shoo Be Do (No Words),” “What I Gotta Do,”), but the dull ballads are forgiven when Gray coughs out “Strange Behavior,” the tale of a couple trying to kill each other for insurance money, that is styled like an optimistic love song that has gone off its meds.
— Sarah Godfrey
Is she serious? Macy Gray keeps her quirkiness under control on her new CD.