Gemma Ray – “It’s A Shame About Gemma Ray”
If you ever catch Gemma Ray with her band, you’ll notice how close her music is to Sixties Pop – to a very dark version of Sixties Girl Pop, that is. Chances are though that you will see the British artist live playing music the way she does on “It’s A Shame About…” – solo and very raw – because Gemma usually only plays with her band in the UK and on the continent, while she goes solo overseas.
But even though her shows are solo a lot, this album – done without the band – is a little bit of a “filler” in between two full band albums. The singer recorded it in New York City at the end of 2009 between Boxing Day and New Year’s. Only producer Matt Verta-Ray, who is usually known for playing with Jon Spencer in Heavy Trash, helped out with less than a handful of guests. An album quick and dirty, but still with a lot of ideas behind it.
“It’s A Shame About Gemma Ray” is a cover album with heavily deconstructed versions of more or less known songs. Gemma had to scrap a few titles. She tried doing Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen but had to give both artists a pass. She couldn’t do it “without sounding just like a gal doing a sweet version,” Gemma told the “Wall Street Journal”.
Instead, Gemma Ray tried some not as obvious choices: “Big Spender” for example, the Yiddish-German song “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein” and “Ghost on a Highway”. George Gershwin is on the album, Buddy Holly too but also the amazing, but little known, Obits (Ex Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, Edsel).
“Touch Me I’m Sick” might be the high point of this record – the best song also to explain what is going on here. Gemma Ray slows down the grunge anthem by Mudhoney decisively and simply plays the chords on her semi-acoustic guitar. And she accompanies herself in the chorus – live, Gemma loops her voice and guitars to put layers over layers. “Touch Me I’m Sick” sounds nice here, less demanding, but way darker.
“Ghost on a Highway” is treated in a similar way. The original version by The Gun Club is a blues punk title – fast but with little atmosphere. Gemma brings out the melody and turns it into a pop-song. A dark pop-song again.
It’s worth catching her live by the way: Gemma Ray is not a standard singer/songwriter, a girl on stage who just acts and sounds nice. The looped layers she uses pretty soon turn into a wall of noise until Gemma takes out the big kitchen knife to torture her guitar. A dangerous treatment by the way – a few weeks ago Gemma ended up in a hospital in Oslo.
The video for “I’d Rather Go Blind”: