Having seen Shilpa Ray play in the early morning hours after a fierce, chilling rainstorm at the outdoor Nelsonville Music Festival in East Central Ohio, this writer can testify that her tough and exciting voice can surmount any distraction around her and kick-start listeners out of any weariness and make them pay attention. She can scream angrily or drift into a bluesy, sorrowful resignation, imbuing her singing with a bittersweet tanginess that lures and bites. She also plays harmonium with the gusto and physical exertion of a person bailing water out of a sinking lifeboat, giving her music a maelstrom-like urgency.
Definitely a rocker with a Punk soul, she also has a danger-skirting art sensibility. Her new album on Northern Spy, Last Year’s Savage, includes songs with titles like “Pop Song for Euthanasia,” “Johnny Thunder’s Fantasy Space Camp,” “Nocturnal Emissions” and “Pipe Dreams Ponzi Schemes.” It follows last year’s EP, It’s All Self Fellatio, released on a label run by one of her biggest admirers, Nick Cave.
Ray is an Indian-American raised in New Jersey who is now based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and whose first album, with the band Beat the Devil, came out in 2006. She previously toured with the Happy Hookers, and, on her current trek, is playing with pedal-steel guitarist Jon Catfish DeLorme, guitarist Alistair Paxton and drummer Russ Lemkin.
One song on Last Year’s Savage actually could turn out to be autobiographical — “Shilpa Ray on Broadway.” Anyone who has heard her version of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Pirate Jenny” (with Cave and Bad Seed Warren Ellis) can imagine her being perfectly cast in the next Broadway revival of The Threepenny Opera. Catch her now so you can someday say, “I knew her when."
SHILPA RAY performs at The Comet on Wednesday, June 3. Get more information here .