wears the trousers magazine

shilpa ray & her happy hookers: a fish hook an open eye (2009)
September 9, 2009, 9:18 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , ,


Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers
A Fish Hook An Open Eye ••••½

Like many superheroes, by day Shilpa Ray leads a mild-mannered life as a Manhattan shopgirl. Onstage and on record, however, she stalks in sleazy blues-punk splendour, singing with the voice and presence of a pissed-off goddess. Having disbanded her previous garage-blues outfit, Beat The Devil, Ray’s new solo pursuit sees her backed by a coterie of New York’s leading musical lights on debut album A Fish Hook An Open Eye. Halfway between Patti Smith and Bessie Smith, Ray is as refreshing as a bucket of cold water after a crawl through the arid wastes of modern music.

If the image in the album’s title induces mental recoil from potential injury, the music similarly seems to take a physical swing at the listener, so sudden, raw and snarling that you want to dodge its trajectory. After ‘Beating St Louis’, a homesick, world-weary lament over electronica that skips from jittery skittering to smooth lapping waves, the album kicks off properly with a disjointed, frenetic cover of ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’. This version is an accomplished switch from a crooner’s song of devotion to an extraordinary evocation of the breathless and desperate fixation which that emotion can produce. Blinded by love, like an enraged animal in a trap, Ray scowls and howls the lyrics of the old standard to an unseen moon over queasy backing harmonies and drums that pound with an answering frenzy.

Alternative interpretations of the blindness love can cause is a theme to which Ray returns on ‘What The F**k Was I Thinking’, a clear-eyed recounting of one-sided self-sacrificial obsession and the selfishness that results. The lyrics are ruefully hymned over a Brechtian waltz with a head-shaking payoff worthy of Amanda Palmer.  The music displayed throughout these eight songs is a bracing and breathtaking mix of punk, jazz and blues – very much a collision rather than a fusion. Of all the instruments used, the most remarkable is Ray’s voice itself. She ranges like a panther from a default guttural bark to the end-of-tether drawl, frayed at the edges, that drags along the melody of ‘Woman Sets Boyfriend On Fire’; the folky croon that echoes the accordion’s nagging wail on ‘Looking For Mr Goodbar’; or her eye-opening yelp on the throat-shredding ‘I’m Not Frigid…Yet’.

If you hear just one song from this album, make it ‘I’m Not Frigid…Yet’. Here, Ray tears strips off a flurry of sexual mores in choppy put-downs rattled off over the band’s rollicking, thunderous stomp and clatter. It’s like the Buzzcocks’ ‘Orgasm Addict’ drenched in oestrogen and whisky, or ‘Hella Nervous’ if Gravy Train!!!! ever stopped giggling long enough to take a look around them. Like many of the liasions lampooned in its lyrics, the song grabs you by the waist and pulls you up against the bump-and-grinding midsection of its two-minute rampage, and then it’s over just as you start to enjoy the ride. While other songs here are perhaps more satisfying in depth and structure, this one showcases Shilpa Ray as a vital and visceral figure who might just have come to save us all.

Rhian Jones
UK release date: 06/07/09; www.myspace.com/shilparay


FREE MP3: Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers, ‘Beating St Louis’


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[…] Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers – A Fish Hook An Open Eye [4.5/5] 89 Kasms – Spayed [3.5/5] 88 Wetdog – Frauhaus! [4.5/5] 87 Rose Melberg – Homemade Ship […]

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