Gettin' Freaky (6/14/2002)
Macy Gray, The Id (Epic 2001) - Don't make a marketing goof with The Id. The record label has raised the bar so high for the sophomore effort from Grammy winner Macy Gray that anything short of multi-platinum sales will be viewed as a disappointment.
Which is a big mistake. Paired with producer Rick Rubin, Macy has found her own voice on The Id. Macy may have the legs for a long run. Let her put out new albums every 18 months, grinding and humping and funking to her own beat.
Because when you hear tracks like "Relating to a Psychopath," "Boo," and the pelvic thrust of "Sexual Evolution," you will realize that Macy Gray (born Natalie McIntyre in 1970) has a special R & B talent. Maybe a voice that takes awhile to get used to, but certainly a Motown groove that runs deep. (Macy is wickedly mocked in the recent movie, Undercover Brother.)
A particular standout is "Sexual Revolution," which might be the best sweaty R & B number since Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing."
So let Macy develop. As she says, "I went on tour for two years, and it changed my life . . . Germany and France had a great influence on me. There was quite a bit of drums and bass, and jungle music. In London, there was this boom-chick-a-boom-chick-a-boom element of beats that really caught my ear. On the whole, in very subtle ways, it comes through on The Id."
You'll find some of the original freakazoid alive and well on The Id. Says Macy, "'Oblivion' is my favorite track. Just because it is so wild."
Rick Rubin is not my favorite producer, as delves too far into the artist's personal peccadilloes. But Rubin has done an exemplary job on The Id, letting Macy go just far enough with her sometimes raw, sometimes raunchy, always unflinching style. Also appearing is Erykah Badu, who provides backing vocals on "Sweet Baby."
Give Macy Gray a chance.
Shelby Lynne, Love, Shelby (Island 2001) - Shelby Lynne finally attracted breakthrough attention with her Grammy award for Best New Artist. (An awkward award, since Shelby already had several albums to her name.)
Love, Shelby is the second album from the "new Shelby." Whereas, I Am Shelby Lynne had more Dusty Springfield/Memphis soul, Love, Shelby aims for a pop finish. Largely, it succeeds.
For the new album, Shelby brought in producer Glen Ballard (of Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill fame) to produce a more hit-oriented sound. Accordingly to Ballard, "She has all that vocabulary, country, blues, rockabilly, soul - but she is none of these. She is such a thoroughbred, I just want to let her run."
I can't disagree with Ballard's assessment of the 32-year-old, 5'1" spitfire. Lynne (whose sister is singer Allison Moorer) started in Nashville, but left with a cloud over her. Comments Shelby, "When I look back on Nashville, man, I don't have any regrets. There were things that I wish I had been better at, but I don't have any hardons against anybody in that town."
With songs like "Wall in Your Heart," and "Trust Me," Shelby is seeking a broader audience. Unfortunately, she (or the record label) have tarted-up her image in an effort to achieve broader success.
For my money, Shelby should spend more time in the studio and crank out an album every 18 months for the next few years. She might be able to go the distance, listen for "Killin' Kind," also included on last year's sound track to Bridget Jones' Diary, but she needs to build a bigger book of material.
Also included is a cover of John Lennon's "Mother," which has become a staple of her live performances. Recalls Ballad, "The first version was the way she does it live, where it is just her shrieking."
Fortunately, the album version is more toned down, which matches Ballard's style. Says the producer, "If the goal is to do exactly what you want and the listener be damned, then I am not the person to work with. Most people can do that on their own. But if they want to try to reach people . . . "
The studio band is first rate and includes Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, Bill Payne (Little Feat) on Hammond B-3, Matt Chamberlain on drums, Mike Landau on guitar, and Mike Elizondo on bass. Ballard calls the players, "The best group I ever had in the studio. If I needed to get into heaven, I would show up with this band."
Love, Shelby will not propel Shelby Lynne to the front rank. But if she releases a couple more albums like this, she can achieve a level seen only by few artists.
Josh Clayton-Felt, Spirit Touches Ground (Dreamworks 2002) - The phrase "labor of love" aptly applies to Spirit Touches Ground. Singer Josh Clayton-Felt, who died from testicular cancer at age 32 in January 2000, had worked on his second solo album for several years. Spirit Touches Ground has finally been released, with the family's agreement to handle promotion.
Clayton-Felt, a Boston native, moved to Los Angeles more than a decade ago. Fronting the alterna-rock outfit School of Fish (with Michael Ward, now of the Wallflowers), Clayton-Felt struck pay dirt with his first single, "Three Strange Days."
After a second album with School of Fish (Human Cannonball), Clayton-Felt started a solo career on A & M Records. The album, now known as Spirit Touches Ground, began as Clayton-Felt's second solo album, and was submitted to the record company after the singer opened a tour for Tori Amos in 1996. Unfortunately, the label did not hear a hit, and sent Clayton-Felt to work with established pop producer, Pat Leonard (who also fronted the lovely Toy Matinee).
Yet the label still was not satisfied, and would not let him release the music. Further, a clause in his recording contract prevented him from re-recording the songs for five years. Clayton-Felt considered numerous alternatives, including changes his name, before going the route of the true indie, and releasing two albums on the web.
In 1999, Clayton resumed work on the album (formerly titled Center of Six), before checking into the hospital in late December 1999. He went into a coma on January 1, 2000, and died nineteen days later.
Clayton works with a strong supporting cast, including Billy Goodrum on keyboards, Davey Faragher on bass, and Pete Maloney and Chad Fischer on drums.
Despite the turmoil in the background, Spirit Touches Ground, has an uplifting feel. Recalls drummer Steve Scully, "There was always a smile on his face. He was always able to look at the bright side of things. He loved to laugh and was never afraid to laugh at himself."
With songs like "Building Atlantis" and the title track, Clayton-Felt shows himself a rocker with a light touch. Also included are numerous pop ballads, including "Half Life."
Spirit Touches Ground is a satisfactory sendoff from this gentle-voiced singer and songwriter.
- Randy Krbechek © 2002
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