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Shilpa Ray
It’s All Self-Fellatio Maria Schurr , October 23rd, 2013 09:47

Shilpa Ray’s music could best be described as a tour through the highlights of 20th century New York’s grandest musical contributions:  a combination of jazzy phrasings, Velvet Underground haziness, and No Wave harshness, evened out by some cabaret stylings and country flourishes. In short, Ray embodies New York’s melting pot spirit, but she knows how to ladle it out, too. She’s also something of an inspiration to rising musicians who have the talent but not the name recognition.

After years of club dates, Ray was brought to the attention of Nick Cave, who whisked her and her harmonium away on a Grinderman tour of the States and has since become something of a Shilpa Ray champion, releasing her EP, It’s All Self-Fellatio, on his Bad Seed Ltd. label, and enlisting Ray as opener for the Bad Seeds current tour of England and Europe. In four songs that will likely draw the largest collection of ears to her music, Ray takes on the role of social observer, reporting on current events with a ribald air over quiet and dark backdrops.

 If, to you, this sounds like Ray following her mentor’s lead, than your assumptions aren’t entirely wrong, but they are maybe dismissive. Like Cave, Ray can do harsh or soft, she can pull a flashy line or two, but musically, and especially vocally, she is her own beast. Anyone who has heard Ray previously knows she can caterwaul, but here her deliveries are more subdued; it’s an approach that makes her words cut all the more. Whether mulling over racist cooking show host Paula Deen or last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, Ray imbues her words with enough drama and enigmaticism to make her songs appealing even to those who don’t keep up on the news. Opener 'I Is What I Is' features nothing more than Ray and piano, but her bright, clear voice captivates throughout. The slightly show-tuney aspect of the melody could threaten to overtake lesser singers, but Ray has been steering this ship awhile and still has ample control.

 Ray may be formidable on her own, but 'Mother Is A Misanthrope' and 'Posted By Anonymous' show her backing band are bringing their own finesse to the proceedings, thank you. Most notable is the lovely pedal steel lines of Jon Catfish Delorme, most notable for how his twangy riff on 'Mother Is A Misanthrope' steers its cabaret nuances in an entirely different direction.

 Ultimately, however, Ray’s harmonium reigns supreme. It is the only instrument that could make narcotic EP closer 'Lessons From Lorena' even hazier. Paired with Ray’s ability to sound like a long lost blues singer who only the most desperate of vinyl enthusiasts are privy to, lines like, "Though I’m not heaven sent, I believe / You’re always going somewhere when you leave", sound like holy intimations at the start of a gutter-dawning day. The ugly, the beautiful, the sacred, the infamous, and the profane. Sounds like a fine opener for Nick Cave, yes, but also a vital performer in her own right.