Review: Macy Gray – Talking Book

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Macy Gray - Talking Book

2012 marked the 40th anniversary of one of Stevie Wonder‘s most prolific albums in his career, Talking Book. Many have paid homage to the album’s many hits by recreating them as best they could such as the late Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s version of Superstition.

But rarely has anyone considered doing the entire album beginning to end. Until now. Macy Gray‘s musical journey has been littered with hits and misses and this undertaking was as risky as one might expect. The potential for a horrendous review from one of millions of the Stevie Wonder purists is inevitable, but she won’t get one here. Macy Gray took a leap of faith and released “Macy’s love letter to Stevie Wonder” and took a daring leap to recreate Talking Book.

For the most part, Macy Gray was wise enough to know that Talking Book was revered by many as a masterpiece that has consistently found itself buried in “Best Albums Of All Time” lists over and over again. To stray too far from the perfected formula that Stevie conjured would have been hazardous. That being said, most of the song structures have stayed the same down to the background vocals with very slightly varied recipes, although this total remake still sounds heavily changed at the same time. Quite hard to explain.

Macy Gray‘s distinctive voice is the biggest alteration to the overall sound. The opening You Are The Sunshine Of My Life may be the hardest of the songs for purists to get through if not for being one of the most recognizable songs on the album. It’s tough to buy into this rehash since the vocals are so incredibly different and bcomes similar to jumping into a cold pool of water. It’s very unsettling when you first get in, but once you get used to it, it’s pretty damn nice. While she sounds more subdued and sometimes strained, the formula still works.

Stevie Wonder - Talking BookAs mentioned, the songs stay pretty close to the originals, though there are some that don’t. Of the most altered would be Superstition which was turned into a slow blues song filled with spacey vocal echoes, whining chords, and buzzed out sections. The thought process by many believe that this song has been played a billion times over the years and recreated by the world’s best and Macy took a huge chance by layering on the heaviest of alterations and it paid off in a big way with a song that feels vastly different from the original giving it a refreshing take.

Another weighty shift was You’ve Got It Bad Girl which almost double timed the beat patterns making the song bounce altering it from a laid back groove into a dance song. Other subtle changes accomplish the same effect such as the addition of hand claps and snappy tambourines to the chilled out You and I (Can Conquer The World) and turning it into a bit more of a pop foray.

Outside of the standouts that were heavily adjusted, Big Brother, Blame It On The Sun, Maybe Your Baby and the rest of the songs stay pretty close to the original structure, but with enough changes to make it fresh to your ears. Spaces normally empty were filled with Latin percussion pieces, claps, and tricky timing adjustments.

All being said, Macy Gray has done a tremendous job with a very daunting task of recreating one of the most revered albums ever made. While the decisions made for the songs affected the flow of the album, it’s hard not to tip your hat to Mrs. Gray for her courage. That being said, we’re gracing her with a score of 4 out of 5 afros. Grab it now on Amazon for only $6.99 or if you’re a sucker for the original, you can still get that also for about $1 more and we’re sure that Macy won’t mind.

4 out of 5 afros

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