Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The morning that Macy Gray recorded this session here in Rock Island followed a scary day in the neighborhood. We watched as a building two over from our raged hot thanks to the hands of an arsonist, burning fully to the ground. The building next to ours almost did the same, burning halfway to the ground. The flames were finally squashed before havoc came to our building. We were told throughout the hot, agonizing and helpless day that there was certain water and smoke damage in our studio, but we were forbidden to enter it until the city's building inspector could verify the soundness of the building's structure. This finally happened around 6 pm the night before this session with Ms. Gray and we trudged up the darkened stairs, expecting the worst. What we found, however, was that the electricity was still working and our studio was untouched other that the thick smell of a campfire, coming from the burning of one-hundred-plus-year-old floor and ceiling beams next door. We called her up and gave her the rundown. Her manager said, "Let's go with the campfire vibe." The following morning at 8 am, while the rubble next door was still smoking and being hosed down, Gray walked through our plywooded up door (after firefighters axed through the glass) and cut this session, featuring songs from her incredible new collection, "The Way," produced by the great Booker T. Jones.
These songs showcase that "campfire vibe" that Gray's had her entire, Grammy-winning career. Hers is a knack for always coming across as chill, like a nonchalant exhalation of two lungs full of smoke. She has a voice and a style that are unmistakably hers. A song like "Stoned" utilizes all of her best traits: the peccadilloes, the oddities, the obvious smokiness, some hints toward a George Clinton-like space odyssey/adventure. It carries with it a downtrodden mood, but in there is a bunch of dreaminess that pulls you right out of the confusion and gloom that might be hovering. She makes it all feel as if it were chosen, like she'd just made the decision to call it off for the day, to forget about all of the wolves packed up and licking their chops outside her doors and just stay in her comfiest pajama bottoms and slippers. It's a place of self-preservation and it's made all her own.