Album Reviews

Macy Gray - Ruby (Mac Avenue)

Simon William Todd

Ever since the game-changing On How Life IsMacy Gray’s deliciously scratchy voice has been tingling ears around the world. Consistently dropping albums ever couple of years, Ruby sees Gray lash up the high-end production and mix traditional jazz and R&B  with ever-so modern, kooky emotion.

Budda starts with what could be carol singers on your doorstep in the most sparkly of snowy winter nights. And in fact the whole track has the warmth and melodic familiarity of a Christmas Number One - there’s even a very sleigh-bell sounding tambourine! One of many slick finger-clicks and smoove basses on this album keep things in check, building to a comforting but slightly cheesy rawk guitar and gospel choir crescendo.

On Cold World, Gray strolls down a sun kissed boulevard with “misfortune, old friend of mine” Don’t worry though, the sunny Tamla brass and a spring-its-step flute, keep your feet a-tapping.

Gray’s unique voice doesn’t really make itself heard until track 3, Over You. The playful, conversational verses build to a “horn-section-in-my-bag” sing-along chorus celebrating the “angel living in my house”. Head bobbing is mandatory.  

White Man is a syncopated, hand-clapping, Latino-tinged “whip your woo-woo-ooh-ooh-ooh” kind of tune. “Hey white man / I’m not my grandmother” sings Gray, in a warning to any white supremacists still pathetically lurking about, that strength and defiance just got a fun new sound.

Louche New Orleans brass and woodwind abound on Tell Me, one of the times Gray effortlessly integrates her smokey jazz-bar musical influences with modern lyrics: “If I told you a secret … would you post it or tweet it”.

R&B piano, bass and percussive tropes pepper songs like lead single Sugar Daddy, [co-written with Meghan Trainor] and Jenny. There’s less of Gray’s gorgeously raspy voice, and more choral stuff, which may be a sign of age and musical maturity, but it sometimes takes the sprite out of the listening experience.

The lyrical inventiveness is still there though, like on Shenanigans, cutely rhymed with “hooligans” on this sexed-up playground singalong.

But He Loves Me is a lyrical paean to love in abusive relationships, and again it’s Gray’s vocal prowess and texture that take this someplace far from the somewhat obligatory piano ballad it could’ve been.

Witness brings the melting pot of this album together. It is tinged with gospel, sexy-horns and more of that rawk guitar. It’s the sound of the sun-setting, not as a close of things, but as the start of the beach party. One that might not last past midnight, mind.

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Released: 21 Sep 2018

Written By: Simon William Todd After loitering on the periphery of the London indie scene in the 1990s, Simon hot-footed it to Aotearoa where he loves his family, English language teaching and writing swan songs. He is a keen follower of Tāmaki’s maunga, enjoying rough and smooth basalt alike. A gig and album reviewer and now radio DJ as well, Simon champions the seedier side of electronic pop and indie rock.

What people are saying

  • Graham Hooper - 2 years ago

    Well the Little Bootie on the Side It's All about That Bass.
    Megan Trainor ? influence is There on That Sugar Daddy tune Vid.