When: Tue., May 26, 9 p.m. 2015
TUESDAY, MAY 26
LOCAL 506, CHAPEL HILL—Shilpa Ray is the sort of musician frequently championed by established artists who interchange "raw" and "real," as if they were the same word. Nick Cave, for instance, took her across Europe as a supporting act and backup singer. She's played shows with Patti Smith, Jon Spencer and Acid Mothers Temple. And her new record, Last Year's Savage, arrives through Northern Spy, an avant-garde imprint more prone to release an LP of Thurston Moore improvisations than a singer-songwriter showcase. But her time as a favored cause might be coming to a close; this month, when she plays a record release show in Brooklyn, no-wave legend James Chance will open for her.
Ray's old band, Beat the Devil, offered a short-lived attempt to reconcile the sound of a harmonium, carried over from her Indian lineage, with goth tendencies she acquired as an outsider teen in New Jersey. Her hard-gigging garage quartet, Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers, subsequently released two records in three years. The harmonium hung around for her solo stuff, its drone sliding into the empty spaces of her songs. But her voice—a genuine blues bellow that's raspy, sort of sleazy and a little sweet—dominates all her music. Nothing on her tracks, save a spare drumbeat, can stand up to it.
Built with titles like "Nocturnal Emissions," "Pop Song for Euthanasia" and "Sanitary iPad," Last Year's Savage delivers Ray's usual level of cynical wit and caustic bluntness. "Oh, how I wish my parents had sent me to Johnny Thunders' Fantasy Space Camp," she jokes. Her boozy, sin-soaked stories will appeal to anyone who considers a Tom Waits comparison a compliment, but cabaret bawdiness isn't her only mode. She's described this set as her most personal. During "Burning Bride," she invokes the banned Hindu practice of immolating a live wife after her husband's death as a dark metaphor. "You'll be lucky when she runs out of desire," she wails, her own supply stocked full. J Kutchma and Stray Owls open. 9 p.m., $8–$10, 506 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-942-5506, www.local506.com. —Jeff Klingman