October 30, 2012 11:50am PT by Sophie Schillaci
Stevie Wonder's 'Talking Book' Gets New Life from Macy Gray on 40th Anniversary
On the heels of Covered, Macy Gray’s last album comprised of a variety of song covers, the “I Try” singer is approaching uncharted territory: remaking an entire album, top to bottom.
Gray, 45, worked with producer Hal Wilner to re-record Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book 40 years after its original release, from “Superstition” to “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” to “I Believe,” it’s all there.
“We were talking about ideas for cover songs and [Wilner] goes, ‘You know what you should do is a whole album. Everyone remakes movies, but no one remakes albums,’” Gray tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought that was a wild idea so I was like, ‘Yes!’ I picked Talking Book ‘cause that’s one of my favorite records and I know it inside out.”
The fact that 2012 marks the album's 40th anniversary was just “the craziest coincidence,” says Gray.
The new Talking Book hits shelves on Tuesday, Oct. 30 via 429 Records, the same label that earlier this year released Gray’s Covered. Following stints with Atlantic, Epic, Geffen and Concord, Gray joined 429 in 2011 and in January, she’ll release yet another album – this time with all new original tracks.
“That will be out at the top of the year,” Gray tells THR. “It’s almost done already.”
Gray admits that covering Wonder was a daunting task, and she still isn’t sure what the legend himself thinks of her new twist -- though the album is billed as Gray's "love letter to Stevie Wonder." “I was just really nervous [about] if he was going to like it or not,” she confesses. “I don’t know how he feels about it yet. I’m scared to ask him.”
According to a rep for Gray, she has since reached out to Wonder's camp but is still waiting for a response.
Gray’s raspy vocals bring a new edginess to the easy-listening playlist, comprised of 10 full tracks. She takes liberties with several songs, sometimes changing tempos, instrumentals and more. As a result, she alters the song times slightly, shaving approximately six minutes off the total album running time.
Among the most notable tracks is "Superstition," arguably Wonder’s biggest hit from Talking Book, smartly transforming into a slow-paced, sauntering ballad that would sound best in a dark and smokey jazz club. "Big Brother" evolves from an upbeat harmonica-backed tune to one supported by drums, guitars and whistles, but where Gray shines the most is on the funky "Maybe Your Baby." Overall, though, the album's tone is a mostly faithful rendition of the original.
Outside of the music scene, Gray, who lives in Los Angeles with her three children, recently appeared in Lee Daniels' The Paperboy and is currently in the midst of writing a play about a female gangster that used to run Harlem.
"I want to do a lot of stuff," she says of pursuing other projects. "You know how life is -- you want to do a million things, but only a couple work out."
Of the play, Gray isn't sure if she'd take a starring role or settle for contributing behind the scenes.
"There might be some other people better for the idea that I'm writing, but I wouldn't mind doing theater," she says. "I would have to imagine myself doing that show every day, every week. It's a whole lot. I would definitely be open to it, though."
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@thr.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci