It’s only a matter of time before Gemma Ray soundtracks a Quentin Tarantino film.
Fresh from supporting John Grant earlier this year the Basildon born, Berlin based singer-songwriter presents herself as the archetypal good girl gone bad. “Jesus I was evil,” she confesses on ‘You Changed Me’, a redemptive track on which her softly soulful voice soars over a strident pop melody.
It’s a sense of iniquity that permeates the best of her lyrics, which are shot through with references to car crashes and mini-horror stories that could have come from the pages of The Shangri-Las.
This bad girl persona is sealed when she reaches for a thick-edged knife, drawing it across her guitar strings on ‘Runaway’ and ‘They All Wanted A Slice’. The gaffer-taped blade produces eerie groans that blend in with the tracks’ brooding blues, which are extended as she crouches down and wrings out tormented noises from her FX pedals.
This retro-pop vibe might have limited appeal if 60’s rock and roll was the only influence. They are, however, given a unique twist by being fed through the pop-noir of ‘900 Miles’; the Nick Cave desert blues of ‘The Wheel’; the tremolo heavy ‘Desoto’; and the Lee Hazlewood country of ‘Out In The Rain’.
The languid sensuality of many of these tracks is aided by her solid two-piece band, with Andy Zammit frequently playing the drums using brushes. It’s nonetheless only when he and bassist Ed Turner leave Ray to perform a solo encore of ‘Rescue Me’ – the “massive hit I had about two years ago” – that the clarity of her guitar playing and sense of longing in her voice become apparent.
There are times during the set when the sad, sultry lyrics demand more extreme musical arrangements but, despite some similarities to Lana Del Rey, she has a haunting understatement that makes her musical tableaux a hidden delight.
Gig date: September 29