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On How Life Is

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: On How Life Is

Artist: Macy Gray
Genre: Soul/R&B
Release Date: July 1999

Review by LarryG
3½ stars out of 4

When On How Life Is, Macy Gray's excellent debut CD, came out most of the talk was about her voice: does she sound like Billie Holiday or is she just annoyingly eccentric? No matter what you think about her voice, an important thing to know about On How Life Is is that it's a record filled with great, easy grooves. Gray's colorful and sometimes wacky persona keeps things interesting but it's the music that makes On How Life Is a classic record. Gray is one of many recent artists like Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo who know and respect great 70's soul but are able to give their music their own distinctive 90's feel. The good groove starts right from the start with Why Didn't You Call Me. The song has a good unhurried feel with a nice, steady beat and relaxed bass, a light sprinkling of keyboards and good backup vocals smoothing out Gray's rough vocal edges. Gray's lyrics are about a needy woman waiting by the phone and desperately calling to see if a boyfriend is home and hanging up when he answers. As with many of On How Life Is' songs, Gray's confident, quirky singing belies the insecure lyrics. Similarly, I Try is about a woman who knows that things aren't going to work out with a guy but still obsesses about him and can't walk away. Again, the music communicates a confidence that transcends the lyrics. Like on most of the CD's songs, the music on I Try shows the confidence of Gray and producer Andrew Slater not to do overdo things. The song has a lot of nice touches like chimes, a orchestral like swirl which opens the song and a building climax at the end but the appeal of the music mainly comes from the relaxed mood from a piano and a good rhythm section. It's interesting that while On How Life Is perfectly captures the feel of classic soul, many of the musicians are white studio pros like Jon Brion, who worked on quite different but also well made records by Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann. In the first few months after On How Life Is' release, the CD's sales weren't as impressive as its reviews and there was some talk that it was too good for a mass audience. Since then I Try became a number one pop hit and it's become clear that the record's great music is undeniable. On How Life Is is deep with classic sounding songs. Still is a sad, moving story of a woman who knows she "should be gone" but stays with an abusive man who still has her in his spell. Gray's vocals show empathy for the woman's plight. Strings and restrained backing vocals create a mournful mood. The song sounds a little like the 70's hit Drift Away and has the timeless feel of a sad Aretha ballad. Do Something is another song with a good, easy beat and atmospheric keyboards and vibes. The song has a positive message, urging people to quit wasting their lives getting high. The fact that most of the songs are smooth and cool makes it easier to deal with the On How Life Is' few goofy songs. Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak is another song about what a great guy her man is, making her "feel like a XX rated star" but Gray has a good time celebrating her sexual ecstasy. Gray imbues I Can't Wait To Meetchu, about looking forward to going to heaven, with her loopy optimism. Both songs have smooth, flavorful grooves. The Letter goes a step farther, with Gray deciding that Earth isn't the place for her so she's going "beyond the moon." On How Life Is' weirdest song is I've Committed Murder. Gray feels no guilt about killing her boyfriend's abusive boss and stealing her money. The song ends with a piece of the theme from Love Story, apparently emphasizing that her actions are justified in the name of love. No matter how strange things get, even if you find Gray's hoarse, raspy voice annoying(I don't), the smooth music of On How Life Is makes it a great listening experience.



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