Recorded in three days, It’s a Shame About Gemma Ray is a different sort of project for Ray, whose previous albums explored the balance between retro pop and neo-soul. Here, Ray’s lush arrangements are replaced by a stripped-down sound that’s almost spooky in its intimacy, with little more than slide guitar and kickdrum forming the bedrock of each song. As for the songs themselves, they’re all covers, and Ray twists each one to suit her alto voice and one-person backing band. Working with percussionist Matt Verta-Ray, she turns Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” into a minor-key ballad, Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” into a femme fatale seduction, and Alex Harvey’s “Swampsnake” into urban blues, with slapback echo and guitar tremolo accounting for most of the album’s hands-off production. The rest of the track list is similarly eclectic, running the gamut from an Etta James standard to a song by the contemporary Sub Pop artist Obits. Cover albums like this aren’t meant to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with an artist’s original work, but It’s a Shame About Gemma Ray more than holds it down, partially because it allows Ray to shine as a lead guitarist and partially because it’s so cohesive, shot through with the same cinematic noir touches used by film directors like Quentin Tarantino.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey