Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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**1/2

MACY GRAY
Big
Will.i.am/Geffen

Gray's voice is in fine fettle, but production and songwriting need help

When Billie Holiday moved from Vocalion to Decca in 1944, she insisted that her first session for the hit-oriented label include a string section. It worked, too -- "Lover Man" sold. In the direct corporate descendant of that shift, Macy Gray, her miraculous burred croon far more Holiday-like than most voices subjected to the comparison, gets the same treatment from new producer Ron Fair, whose credits include Lisa Loeb, Christina Aguilera, the Black Eyed Peas and the current chairmanship of Geffen Records. As Will.i.am's programming on "Ghetto Love" and Larry Gold's violins on "Okay" remind us, there's string writing and string writing. Fair's is concentrated sugar water, and Gray, whose words have never bitten like her voice and who adds kink with a murder song as pointless as "I've Committed Murder" is pointed, too often pens lyrics and sings tunes just as cloying. The strategy may work, but no way will it yield a "Lover Man."

Rolling Stone, Apr. 5, 2007