Madame Ray
3 track Album Sampler
February 2010
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman

When The Long Blondes announced on October 19, 2008, that they had decided to call it a day, due to the tragic news that Dorian had suffered from a stroke in June and didn’t know when, or if, he would ever be well enough to play guitar again. For fans of the band, this was such a sad way to see The LB’s end. Because not only did it pull the rug from under their feet, but their astonishing musical reinvention with sophomore album, “Couples”, reinforced the fact that they were no flash in the pan and had it in them to produce a vast and varied body of work, which could inspire and appeal to many. Put simply, The Long Blondes were one of the very best groups to have emerged in The ‘00s and will be sadly missed. On a more upbeat note however, a farewell compilation of pre-Rough Trade music, “Singles”, was followed by the news that lead singer Kate Jackson, was to pursue a solo career and had been “writing a lot of lyrics and trying to write music on her own, which is something that she had never done before.”

In early January 2009, a news story then revealed that Kate would be working with Bernard Butler, before some months later, The Fly caught up with her for their regular ‘In The Studio’ feature, where now going under the guise of Madame Ray, she unveiled: “It’s different from The Long Blondes, obviously. I wanted it to be. When the band split up, I didn’t really know how I wanted my solo record to sound. Initially, I wanted to make a country pop record, but then I remembered that I really like loud guitars, so that hasn’t happened! It’s ended up being a big pop record with lots of loud guitar on it. There are also a couple of tracks that have got strings on, and a couple of further songs that are quite atmospheric, so I think it’s quite varied actually.” Although there isn’t an Official Madame Ray Website or MySpace page at the time of writing – or even a scheduled LP release date / tour planned – there is a 3trk album sampler currently doing the rounds, which luckily, I managed to track down. Stylistically, fans of The LB’s need not worry too much, as the songs aren’t a drastic make-over, but as Kate wanted, she has moved away from The Long Blondes’ sonic template. And surely, any truly great artist who wants to explore different avenues, work with / learn from new people and continue to grow creatively, deserves the freedom, grace and right to do so…

1. Wonder Feeling – A joyous pop cocktail. With one part Pulp and one part Saint Etienne + an umbrella of ‘80s synths and snapping guitars, you can tell instantly, that Bernard has produced and mixed this track. As Kate sings: “Wonder Feeling, take me to the motorway, can’t find a reason to go in to work today…” the song bounces along nicely, before a trademark Butler solo fizzes in and out, giving it extra bite!

2. Leaving Me Easily – A soulful motown ballad. Reminiscent of a McAlmont & Butler collaboration, breathy backing vocals, guitar stabs and soaring strings all coalesce, while Kate laments: “My friends are telling me the best is yet to come, don’t try and fool me ladies, that guy was the one.” While an absorbing, yet downbeat refrain of “Do you still wake up and think of me…” plays over and over as the song’s outro.

3. The Atlantic – A swanky glam stomper. This really is something different and is the most surprising track on the CD. With lots of interesting keyboard noises + effects and infectious “Ba-ba, da-da’s” boiling over into a treated / elongated chorus: “Flying over The Atlantic…” which twists and turns with jet-fuelled sounding compression, until the song spirals off into the distance, leaving vapour trails all around!

And that is it – only 3 tracks on the sampler unfortunately, but as the first fruits of Kate’s solo material and as a taster for her forthcoming, as-yet-untitled long player, I have to say that I think Madame Ray has got off to a flying start! Each song lasts between 3 – 4 minutes, the length of most classic pop, and although eclectic, the tracks nestle comfortably alongside each other and importantly, sound like the work of one artist. Production-wise, the songs have just the right amount of polish, without stripping them of their heart and soul, and lyrically, it would seem that again, Kate is trying to evolve from The Long Blondes, as the words are much simpler and to the point. Also, Kate’s voice / delivery seems to get better and better with every record! So, after having listened to this CD several times over and enjoyed it immensely, I can only say that I really, really hope it’s not too much longer until there’s some concrete news about the future of Madame Ray. For like other fans, I can’t wait to have her album in my collection and for the chance to once again see the gorgeous Kate singing and dancing onstage like only she can!

Steve Bateman

See more of Steve's Long Blonde pix here and here