Island Fire is a record that is so hard to pin down. It floats around between lush, brilliant pop music and nitty-gritty rockabilly. Quickly pegging Gemma as a neo-soul artist immediately throws her in the ring with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Raphael Saadiq. That, in some ways, is a very unfair position to throw any artist into. Gemma is no stranger to soul music, let alone the English soul scene, but hidden inside the lush string arrangements hide more diverse influences. Her 2009 covers album showcased songs from Obits, Sparks, and Sonic Youth brings a interesting twist to her pop songs.
Songs like ‘Put Your Brain In Gear’ are so verbatim Mowtown, Doowop era pop music retooled for the 21st century, but following quickly on its heels is the country, Dusty Springfield-esque delivery in ‘Runaway’. Ray crosses boundaries so many times in a single song that with every listen something new pops up. ’Troup De Loup’ is at both a country balad and haunting pop song drenched in noir-kitsch. Her songs on the later half of the album are drenched in lounge atmosphere and would pair well with a smokey, dim nightclub over a glass of whiskey filmed in black and white. Gemma Ray is a woman who knows no boundary when it comes to pop.
Records like this are so hard to truly discuss in a concrete manner. Vocals are soulful and the instrumentation is pop, country, and minimal all at the same time. Truly a unique listen in the world of pop music.
Out now on Bronzerat.