Macy Gray has won a Grammy, cracked the Top 5 on the Hot 100 and has steadily released music over the past 15 years, but she was still surprised when Booker T. Jones, one of the founders of the legendary Stax band Booker T. and the MG’s, agreed to work with her on her new album, The Way. Gray’s latest full-length hits stores next Tuesday (Oct. 7), but you can hear the Gray/Jones collaboration “First Time (Revised)” — and the rest of the LP — exclusively on Billboard.com below.
“One of my favorite songs is ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers,” Gray tells Billboard. “I’m trying to make a ballad kind of like ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and then I just said, ‘F— it, why don’t we just call the guy who [produced] it’ — not really believing he would say yes.” But Jones, who helmed “Ain’t No Sunshine” back in 1971, called her back, presumably excited to work with such a charismatic vocalist on “First Time (Revised).”
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Gray says that it’s “awesome” returning to her own songs after releasing two albums that interpreted the work of other artists. On 2012’s Covered, Gray applied her artistry to a diverse group of rock tracks, from the likes of Metallica and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; for Talking Book, also from 2012, she focused exclusively on tracks from the classic Stevie Wonder album of the same name. “I needed a moment to figure out what I wanted to say and what I can offer,” she says. “I just took my time.”
The first songs to make the new album were written about a year and a half ago; after that, it took about eight months to produce the finished product, which she recorded primarily in Los Angeles. Gray moves fluidly between modes on the album, using her uniquely textured voice to glue everything together. The single “Hands” is a playful track reminiscent of the Ohio Players‘ ’70s hit “Love Rollercoaster,” while “Bang Bang” is heavy and bluesy, with a splintering guitar riff and a violent, sensual hook.
“There’s a million ways [to make an album],” Gray says, “but there’s always one way that’s my favorite and gets the best songs out of me.” She hits the studio with her musicians, “everybody plugs in, and you work it like that. Old-school.”
Gray is currently on tour in the U.S., next performing in Niagara Falls, N.Y. on Oct. 3 (full schedule can be found here). Watch the video for “Hands,” which was released on Tuesday, below: