Mary Ray Elias is a talented multi-instrumentalist (tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, flute and guitar) with a gift for playing riffs and figures that deftly avoid being clichéd and, for that matter, neatly sidestep being formulaic–all without resorting to quirkiness or coming off at all forced. She just has a natural ear for being subtly inventive, both in person (for instance, playing behind blues man Don King) or in the studio on her solo album Gory Glory.
Elias wrote eight of the nine well-crafted numbers on the sexy rocker “Psycho Bitch,” with help from songwriting partners Jolie Nelson and Kara Erickson. Produced and arranged by the sure hand of Robyn Lee (who also plays keyboards), Gory Glory has plenty going for it in the way of rich melodies and strong musicianship. Alongside Elias are guitarists Jim Beheringer, Dave Burhart, and Todd Duane, flautists Bob Fantauzzo and Sally Heinz, pianist Greg Inhofer, percussionists Ryan Inselman and Fred Weber, drummers Chris Kopp and George Marich, Steve Vaonderharr on harmonica, Jack Pearson on Jew’s harp, and backup vocalists Stephanie Taubr and Marty Rice. That’s a whole crowd of folk, but their chops have been put to good use.
The title cut tears things up, a perfect lead-in, high-powered pop-rock with a lean, mean edge to it. Elias’s lyrics are tight, too. Just as attitudinal as the music on this cut. “Hey man it’s been a long time/Do you still live under the overpass/Right of the ‘short line’/With your sign/Will work for food/Vietnam Vet/And God bless/God help the American dream/God bless the homeless/And may you leave this world in a great blaze/Of gory glory.” The listless exception “Corner of Payne and Agony” doesn’t measure up, either in the maudlin music or such clichéd lyrics as revisiting Jim Morrison with “Nobody gets out of here alive” and the hokey lines, “When you gonna paint your symphony/When you gonna write your masterpiece.” That, however, aside from just being one song that doesn’t work, isn’t the Achilles’s heel to Gory Glory. It’s Mary Ray Elias’s singing, which seems to almost whine from her head voice instead having the full-bodied resonance of coming from her diaphragm. If you can get past that, this is a fine offering.