Personnel: Macy Gray (vocals); Russell Malone (guitar); Wallace Roney (trumpet); Ari Hoenig (drums).
Recording information: The Hirsch Center, Brooklyn, NY (04/07/2016-04/08/2016).
Editor: Nicholas Prout.
Photographer: Alan Nahigian.
Recorded for Chesky as part of the label's Binaural+ series, this session, Macy Gray's ninth proper studio album, was caught by a single microphone in a Brooklyn church. Backed by a quartet featuring trumpeter Wallace Roney, drummer Ari Hoenig, bassist Daryl Johns, and guitarist Russell Malone, it's a natural direction for Gray, as she started in jazz bands, putting her unique spin on classics, and has cited jazz vocalists as influences throughout her career. Apart from two originals and as many covers, Gray revisits her own work. "I Try" and "Slowly" are transformed into quiet rumbles, while "Sweet Baby" gets a Bo Diddley beat makeover. She even goes back to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters," guided by Johns' bass, which alternates between a stutter and a strut. Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," which Gray has been performing since Hurricane Katrina (if not earlier), gets a solemn, lullaby-like reading. The finishing touch, the lone song Gray and the band wrote together, is a lovely ballad that showcases Roney and, well, the singer's suggestive wordplay. All of this is best heard in a late-night setting. The volume of Gray's rasping voice rarely breaks above the level of an intimate conversation -- at times, she sounds a bit off in the distance -- and the group plays as if it's trying not to disturb a dozing parishioner. For all its emphasis on the past, Stripped sounds like a step forward. ~ Andy Kellman