I was not exactly paying attention to soul in the 1990s, so to the extent I was aware of Macy Gray it was entirely due to “I Try” being on video channels and the radio a lot. I had started reading contemporary reviews at least a little bit by this time and I remember positive ones, but I basically ignored her existence. I’m not sure I even realized how distinct her voice was, as I just didn’t care an iota about R&B (or really any music that didn’t have guitar solos in it).
This is a very professional ’90s soul record which shows a decent breadth of styles and a very contemporary mix of more traditional approaches combined with sampling and interpolation. But there would be not much remarkable about it (to my ears) without Gray’s voice.
As you know, Gray’s voice is incredibly distinct – as one person put it, a female Rod Stewart. It’s her voice even more than her lyrical perspective which sells the record as something better than the average neo soul record, it’s her voice that makes you want to listen to it and presumably it’s her voice that convinced so many people to buy it and so many critics to get a little too excited about it.
Gray’s lyrical voice is also reasonably distinct, especially given that she is a woman sometimes singing about topics which we don’t normally associate with women (singers anyway), such as spending too much time smoking weed. So that’s an added bonus.
So this is one of those records that I appreciate more because the artist is so distinct that the conventionality of everything else is just not that important. The same album sung by a different person – even the same lyrics – would make less of an impression, I’m pretty damn sure.