I first encountered Shilpa Ray when she was fronting the band Beat the Devil back in 2007. I saw them play an excellent set at The EARL, and the band later released one quality EP and a less good (overproduced) LP. Since then Ms. Ray has pursued a solo career that i have followed off and on over the years. Last Year's Savage is her latest released, apparently recorded with her touring band.
I just love Ms. Ray's voice. It is husky and with a hint of natural reverb on the low end, and she really knows how to use it. Her singing can be powerful, just really wailing. But she also knows how to be understated when she needs to. I just find her fascinating as a singer, and i think she is continuing to develop as a songwriter. The music on this record is balanced between swinging rockers and droning melancholy tunes.
The record kicks off with an otherworldly tinkling of a xylophone in Burning Bride. Her voice comes in, singing slowly, a melancholy tune. Her harmonium groans, and eventually slide guitar and light tapped drums join in the background.
Pop Song for Euthanasia is the awesomely titled second track. A guitar chugs alongside her voice and harmonium drone. This has a slight new wave feel and swings nicely. The band adds in a deliriously happy keyboard riff in On Broadway. This song swings along happily.
Ray gives us another great song title next: Johnny Thunderís Fantasy Space Camp. I love that! What Johnny Thunders has to do with Space is beyond me, but the title makes me smile every time i read it. This is a banger, the drums fast and Ray really bellowing it out.
Oh My Northern Soul is one of the loveliest things Ms. Ray has ever done. The harmonium drones, the drums tap, and the guitar echoes along with a simple riff. It all just fits together, the music there accompanying her voice nicely. The next tune, Nocturnal Emissions, is wonderful as well, but instead of being understated it is epic. The song starts of slowly and then builds to a frenzy, with Ray howling as the guitar roars and the drums thunder. The song is huge and dense!
Clue fans will like the title of Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room. This is one of the faster songs here, Ms. Ray and her band tearing at it, the drummer finally cutting loose. The next song has a slightly gross titular pun in Sanitary iPad, but is a nice, slow song, Ms. Ray singing alongside a slow drum riff and chiming keys. The pace is kept up with Moksha, the band really swinging and Ray screaming along. I bet this one is thrilling live.
Pipe Dreams Ponzi Schemes slows things back down to the stately pace the album has mostly cruised through. I like bass riffing here, and the grinding of the guitar as she sings hazily. And then the record comes to a slow end with Hymn, a lovely slow tune of droning harmonium and tinkling guitars.
Last Year's Savage is a solid record that rewards repeated listening. I look forward to what Shilpa Ray does next.