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POP MUSIC | Record Rack

Echoing '70s Soul, in a Voice That's All Her Own

*** MACY GRAY; "On How Life Is"; Epic

July 25, 1999|NATALIE NICHOLS

The positive, empowering messages in such numbers as the reflective "A Moment to Myself" and the lush call to action "Do Something" bring Lauryn Hill to mind, but singer-songwriter Macy Gray's debut album (due in stores Tuesday) more strongly recalls the best of '70s soul.

Blending old-school R&B and funk with hip-hop and rock, the L.A.-based artist and her band craft a pervasively cool and jazzy atmosphere that evokes the after-hours club in which much of this material was worked out. The sonic ambience also provides the perfect complement to Gray's deceptively wee, squeaky-rich, velvety rasp of a voice, which has evoked comparisons to such greats as Billie Holiday and Tina Turner.

Her musical influences clearly include Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, and the mood on this collection varies wildly from spiritual to erotic, a la Prince. Yet Gray manages to make her own impression, not just with such tunes as the funk-pop reproach "Why Didn't You Call Me" and the mid-tempo breakup ballad "I Try," but also with her versatile band. The players prove equally adept with Booker T-like organ cool and modern trip-hop grooves, weaving their strands carefully around Gray's voice and letting it carry every restless creative twist.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two (fair), three (good) and four (excellent).

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Hear the Music

* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.calendarlive.com/soundclips

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