August 30, 1999 12:00 PM

Macy Gray (Epic)

The startling and richly satisfying debut of this Los Angeles singer-songwriter comes complete with a deafening wave of hype. In this case, it’s justified. Gray (née Natalie McIntyre), a 31-year-old single mother of three, manages to conjure up the classic ’70s soul-funk grooves of Sly Stone and George Clinton and infuse those sloppy, sexy rhythms with a modern, off-kilter and decidedly female point of view.

With her distinctive, husky and high-pitched voice, Gray sounds as if she has spent as much time sucking helium as smoking cigarettes. Backed by a band that is fluid and funky, she spins tales of unrequited lust, unrepentant acts of mayhem, and redemption and rejection, as evidenced on the deceptively breezy “The Letter,” a suicide note set to a beat that would make even soul great Al Green jealous.

Often poignant, always pointed, Gray mixes rock, soul and the blues with a wit and a creativity that is joyously refreshing. Count this among the year’s most promising debuts.

Bottom Line: First-class effort from a rising new star

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