Release Date: May 29, 2012
Record label: Bronzerat Records
The fact that Island Fire has bonus tracks from a previous single that appeared on the digital version of her fourth album, and that Gemma Ray not only covers two Sparks songs, but fully collaborates with the Mael brothers on one of them, almost threatens to overshadow everything else. But Ray hasn't built up her already considerable reputation by simply relying on others -- Island Fire wends its way through a variety of approaches, all of which have her own stamp on them first and foremost. That she plays with an early, Spector-style tearjerker in musical form is one thing; that the title and message of the song is "Put Your Brain in Gear," another.
All it’ll take is the right song and a savvy PR machine to make UK chanteuse Gemma Ray the next Amy Winehouse; a retro leaning soul/pop singer with distinctive vocal chops and a sense of the past that gracefully translates into the present. If there is any justice, her fourth album will do the trick with an ambitious even audacious widescreen, sometimes orchestrated approach that makes her sweeping melodic, 60s influenced material soar out of the speakers. She pens unique, inspired tunes that borrow from a filmic perspective, arranged with a deft Phil Spector meets Shadow Morton touch.
The chances are slim, but we’d give anything to see Essex girl Gemma Ray slink her way onto the next series of TOWIE and wield her beloved Harmony Rocket and crisp, sideways blues in the cast’s questionably tanned faces. ‘Island Fire’ is Ray’s fourth album, and sees her sweep from Joe Meek territory (‘Rescue Me’) and deliciously creeping malevolence (‘Flood And A Fire’) to a simmering mariachi skronk (‘Trou De Loup’). She’s far less successful when she goes into full-on retro pop mode, as on the incredibly cloying ‘Put Your Brain In Gear’ and ‘Runaway’, but when she decides to plump for the darker end of the spectrum, she shines.[i]Leonie Cooper[/i] .
Gemma Ray practices a kind of baroque, cabaret-style of pop that involves ornate orchestration, tongue-twisting lyrical delivery and a sly, “knowing” demeanor that is either ironically winning or grating as hell, depending on your point of view. Myself, I’ll go with “grating as hell”. The little-girl cutesiness that crops up from time to time doesn’t help matters.
A singer with potent pop sensibilities, packaged exquisitely and uniquely. Martin Aston 2012 It’s hard to improve on Bronze Rat’s description of their own Gemma Ray as a “torch-singing, guitar-taming, pop-noir maverick”. The Essex girl born Gemma Smith was PJ Harvey-like in her infancy, but today is something like a sumptuous pile-up of Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, Françoise Hardy, Helen Shapiro, The Shangri-Las, a Harmony Rocket guitar stroked with a 8” carving knife and some other indefinable strands of DNA, the whole resembling some future ideal of rock’n’roll vintage.
‘Island Fire’ really embraces the concept of pop noir with a healthy dose of kitsch.Drawing on genres firmly rooted in the sixties such as ye-ye, dusty bar ballads, girl group pop and even swamp rock, ‘Island Fire’ is at once sugary sweet and cartoonish but a touch disquieting. She masks not-so-pleasant subject matter with a gaudy exterior. ‘Put Your Brain In Gear’ sees Ray making what sounds like an incredibly veiled threat under the guise of slow burning doo-wop.