Previewing new albums from Macy Gray, Tori Amos, Live, Diana Krall, and more.
I Got 'Id'
Macy Gray admits that she was an irresistible force, if not an immovable object, when it came to weaving the words and music that would evolve into her sophomore Epic album, "The Id." She just refused to be told what to do in the studio anymore. "The Id" is the follow-up to 1999's "On How Life Is," which reached No. 4 on The Billboard 200 and sold 3.2 million copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan.
"It was time for me to take charge of my music in a way that I hadn't before," she says about the process leading up to the new Rick Rubin-produced set. "It was time for me to get over my insecurity and show that I've grown up. This album was not going to happen unless it was a complete reflection of where my head is at right now."
Contributing to that frame of reference were a revolving door of such high-profile guests as Erykah Badu, Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante, Sunshine Anderson, Angie Stone, Slick Rick, Billy Preston, and Mos Def. First single "Sweet Baby" is No. 25 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart this week; look for Gray on tour later this year.
People Are 'Strange'
It's the kind of concept only Tori Amos could come up with: recording an album comprised completely of cover songs written by men. Enter "Strange Little Girls," due this week from Atlantic and highlighted by Amos' interpretations of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," Tom Waits' "Time," Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays," Eminem's "97' Bonnie & Clyde," and the Beatles "Happiness Is a Warm Gun."
"Words can wound and words can heal," Amos says, "and both are included on the album ... All of these songs were created by powerful wordsmiths, whether you agree with them or not." To reinforce the identity of each of the characters "singing" the songs, photographer Thomas Schenk's pictures of Amos as each woman grace the "Strange Little Girls" CD packaging.
Amos kicks off a North American tour in support of the new set Sept. 28 in West Palm Beach, Fla. The trek, which runs into late November, will find the artist performing without a backing band for the first time on tour since 1994.
'V' Times A Charm
Live frontman Ed Kowalcyzk says the loose-limbed feel of his group's new MCA album, "V," is due in part to the band's decision to enjoy the fame it has achieved rather than to view it as a burden. "[It's about] being the center of a party every night and sort of embracing that for the first time in that way," he says. "Basically, we're just going for it on and offstage."
Of first single "Simple Creed," Kowalcyzk says, "[The song] is almost paradoxical: It's probably our most aggressive song ever, but it's got this message -- it's all about demonstrating that you can be a bad-ass and inform the world with a positive message and nobody's going to say you're wimping out. It doesn't have to be Up With People." The track is No. 12 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart this week.
On "People Like You," Kowalcyzk sings of a dream where he's onstage with rock icons Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Queen, Elton John, and Michael Stipe. Live is also name-checked in the song's list of rock heroes. "I think the song captures the essence of Live," he admits. "When you start a band and you're 14 years old, like we were, there ain't nothing but a dream because you aren't selling any records, you're making no money. The song is a message to ourselves." Look for Live on tour in North America with Jane's Addiction this fall.
Diana Krall, revered by critics and consumers alike as one of today's preeminent jazz singers, returns this week with "The Look of Love" -- a Verve release that strives to broaden her creative palette to include torch songs. The hazy, melancholy collection of ballads showcases a mature stylist who is blessed with superlative material and deft collaborators, most notably her longtime producer, Verve Music Group (U.S.) chairman Tommy LiPuma, and German arranger/conductor/composer Claus Ogerman.
Preparing for her sixth album, which features such pop standards as "S'Wonderful," "I Remember You," "Maybe You'll Be There" and the Burt Bacharach/Hal David title track, Krall first played some recordings she treasured one night at her New York City apartment. Among them were Nat King Cole's "Love Letters" and Julie London's "Cry Me a River," which she has also recorded.
"The Look of Love" fondly recalls Frank Sinatra's hipster/swinger era with Capitol Records from 1953 to 1959, when he worked with such arranger/producers as Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Gordon Jenkins. "When we were listening to a playback of 'I Get Along Without You Very Well,' Claus, with his dry wit, said, 'We have to sock it to Nelson.' He's 70, and he wanted to pay our respects to Nelson Riddle." Krall begins an extensive tour Sept. 19 in Toronto.
There was a time when only two places mattered on the hip-hop map -- New York and Los Angeles -- making it nearly impossible for artists from other regions to gain national prominence. Eventually such cities as Atlanta, New Orleans, and Houston broke down those barriers. Along the way, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony put Cleveland on the map, while Nelly represented St. Louis. But Milwaukee, the city that "feeds and supplies the world," had yet to tempt the hip-hop nation's palate.
This lack of recognition that pushed rapper Coo Coo Cal to pull himself up by his bootstraps, launch the In the Trunk label, and literally release records out of his trunk -- all in search of a major label deal for him and local compatriots. Mission accomplished with "Disturbed," out this week on Tommy Boy. First single "My Projects" has already been a runaway hit, having spent four weeks atop Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart.
In keeping with what he calls the "gumbo" sound of Milwaukee, Coo Coo Cal worked with local producer Big Hank for most of "Disturbed," as well as another local producer, 88 Keys, and KayGee of Naughty by Nature fame. Chicago native Twista adds more Midwestern flavor to the album on "Still Ride 'Til We Die."
Additional titles hitting stores this week include R&B vocalist Gerald Levert's "Gerald's World" (Elektra); indie rock mainstays Superchunk's, "Here's to Shutting Up" (Merge); R&B vocalist Lina's, "Stranger on Earth" (Atlantic); a collection of hits and rarities from imprisoned Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard, "Dirty Story -- Best Of" (Elektra); country artist Aaron Tippin's, "A December to Remember" (Lyric Street/Hollywood); electronic act Tweaker's "The Attraction to All Things Uncertain" (Six Degrees); singer/songwriter John Mayer's "Room for Squares" (Aware/Columbia); modern rock outfit Remy Zero's "The Golden Hum" (Elektra); R&B vocalist KeKe Wyatt's "Soul Sista" (MCA); U.K. rock combo Curve's "The Gift" (Hip-O); DJ Icey's "Essential Elements" (Sire); a various artists compilation from artists who have played the U.K.'s All Tomorrow's Parties Festival, "All Tomorrow's Parties 1.0" (Touch & Go); and guitarist Marc Ribot's "Saints" (Division One/Atlantic).
Also out this week is acclaimed singer/songwriter Tara Jane O'Neil's "In the Sun Lines" (Quarterstick); a singles/rarities collection from country-soul combo Lambchop, "Tools in the Dryer" (Merge); Welsh rock act Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's "How I Long to Feel That Summer in My Heart" (Beggars Banquet); an EP from DJ Paul Van Dyk, "Columbia" (Mute); jazz pianist Brad Mehldau's "Progression: Art of the Trio Vol. 5" (Warner Bros.); electronic music veteran Richie Hawtin's "DE9: Closer to the Edit" (Mute); singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston's "Rejected Unknown" (Gammon); indie rock outfit Kingsbury Manx's "Let You Down" (Overcoat); a best-of from modern rock group Collective Soul, "7even Year Itch" (Atlantic); an expanded edition of R&B legend Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" (Motown); reissues of the Ivy albums "Realistic" and "Apartment Life" (Nettwerk); and an expanded edition of the Who's seminal concert album "Live at Leeds" (Universal).