wears the trousers magazine

gemma ray: lights out zoltar! (2009)
August 20, 2009, 11:09 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,


Gemma Ray
Lights Out Zoltar! ••••

After a shaky start, it seems fate is now smiling on formidable UK talent Gemma Ray. Radiology, her sturdy first record with then-outfit The Gemma Ray Ritual, went disappointingly unheralded. Four years later, her ill-fated solo debut The Leader earned modest praise from some quarters, but suffered setbacks galore due to an unfortunate bout of blood poisoning which prevented Ray from doing any promotional touring. As it turns out, this enforced hiatus was a blessing in disguise, with Ray bypassing self-pity and frustration in favour of stalwart determination, turning her recovery period into a hive of proactive songwriting. The results have paid off, evolving into Lights Out Zoltar!, a lush and solid follow-up.

The liner sleeves and artwork are a good indication of the album’s retro, beach-chic feel, decorated with palm trees, sunglasses and neon diner signs, while Ray herself shimmers in vintage dress, complete with beehive hair and a corsage. Lights Out Zoltar! has a defiantly unique sound, a sophisticatedly ramshackle blurring of noirish bossa nova pop, waving with Latin surf and a ’50s rockabilly groove. Working hand in hand with co-producer Michael J Sheehy, Ray has crafted rich, layered numbers that utilise everything from electric, acoustic and slide guitar to toy pianos and stylophones, even listing a filing cabinet in the “who done what” song credits for catchy, singalong number ‘Tough Love’.

Opener and first single ‘100MPH (In 2nd Gear)’ sets the tone with its dark, sliding pop, while ‘Fist Of A Flower’ manages to clash ’60s girl-group vibes with Beach Boys-style cooing. From the umbrella-toting, doo-wop duet ballad of ‘1952’ to the haunting melodrama of gospel wailings and organ notes on ‘Dig Me A River’, Ray balances a witty, dangerous pop aesthetic with dark, pulp-fiction humour, a style which made her recent cover of folk legend Odetta’s ‘900 Miles’ a perfect addition to the soundtrack of last year’s BBC horror flick ‘Mum & Dad’, described by first-time director Steven Sheil as “the Heathrow Airport Chainsaw Massacre”.

Though dulcet and atmospheric, Ray’s vocals falter a little in places, distracting away from the highly accomplished quality of the record, but the textured symphonies behind her are expert enough to support a little weakness here and there. Mostly she sounds dreamily sweet, with a natural, honeyed quality more then equal to her more established peers. In all, Lights Out Zoltar! is a fantastically singular work, and with resumed good health and fans including Jimmy Page, The Duke Spirit and geetar-diddling labelmate Seasick Steve, Ray seems set to really shine this time round.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 07/09/09; www.myspace.com/gemmaraymusic


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

[…] The xx – xx [Elyse Cain 17/8] 42 Pixie Lott – Turn It Up [Katy Knight 16/9] 43 Gemma Ray – Lights Out Zoltar! [Charlotte Richardson Andrews 20/8] 44 Quinta – My Sister, Boudicca [Rhian Jones 15/7] 45 Tiny […]

Pingback by Q3: 50 most read reviews « wears the trousers magazine

[…] Therapy [4/5] 74 Gwyneth Herbert – All The Ghosts [4.5/5] 73 Gemma Ray – Lights Out Zoltar! [4/5] 72 The Fiery Furnaces – I’m Going Away [4/5] 71 Rickie Lee Jones – Balm In Gilead [4/5; […]

Pingback by best of 2009: readers poll results 99–51 « wears the trousers magazine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: