Even after hundreds of listens, Macy Gray's debut, On How Life Is, is a stunner. Kicking off with "Why Didn't You Call Me," -- with that glorious bass bounce and a classic soul groove -- the record exists in a misty timelessness, containing songs that very well could have been recorded by Billie Holiday, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Sly and the Family Stone, Chaka Khan, Prince or D'Angelo. Her songs contain a magical effortlessness suggesting that the spirit of soul music has seeped through her skin and possessed her, pushing lyrics and funk through her. She seems a mystical puppet of the funk. But at the same time, her strength as a stylist shines through; what we wouldn't give to hear her nail "My Funny Valentine" or "Strange Fruit." She's one of the only singers in present-day rhythm & blues, adult contemporary, funk or rock who can sing a great ballad like "Still" (which she wrote!) and make it matter, fill it with both confusion and grace, touch it with genuine passion. That song, about the pull of love in a crazy relationship, is one ace among many; in it, she starts with the truth -- "In my last years with him there were bruises on my face" -- then describes her efforts to get away. Then, as quickly as she's gone, she's confessing that, despite it all, "I still light up like a candle when he calls me up." It's a song that'll tear you up because it captures the essence of crazy, wonderful, terrible love. Gray hits this kind of perfection over and over on On How Life Is, and as with all true classic records, with each listen it blossoms more. Anyone who cares about the funk, the soul, the real-deal rhythm & blues, is crazy to miss this show; it captures an artist on her way straight up, and this should be one of those concerts that you'll tell your grandchildren about.
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