Epic has spent wads of cash to build buzz for the debut album by singer Macy Gray. A month before On How Life Is was released, the label sent her on a short club tour with a crack 11-piece band; her gig at Double Door in June was crowded, but most of the tickets were on the company's tab. All of which means that if Gray's record doesn't sell fantastically, she probably won't see a penny in royalties. But for once the gamble seems warranted: Gray, 29, can shake the rafters with her soulful, raspy little chirp, which holds together a dense, gritty mix of hip-hop, soul, funk, and rock. Neil Strauss of the New York Times has described it as "Rod Stewart on helium," and though that makes no allowances for Gray's flashes of Billie Holiday-esque vulnerability, it's the best description I've heard yet. As a songwriter, she falls pretty squarely within the R & B tradition, with odes to lovers and laments for lovers, but there are a few twists in her vision that inspire shudders. "The Letter," which closes the album, is a hooky suicide note. "Still," which opens with the line "In my last years with him there were bruises on my face," turns out to be about a man she can't resist. And the next song, "I've Committed Murder," celebrates getting away with homicide and theft: "One thing I've learned through all of this is / Having money sure is nice," she sings, and I found myself crooning along with the line, "I have no intention of paying for my crime, don't fear." Saturday, 7:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212. Peter Margasak
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stephane Sednaoui.