It honestly feels like Gretta Ray has been releasing music for the past decade. Only now releasing her debut album, Begin to Look Around, the Melbourne artist has been in and around listener’s ears for so long you’d be forgiven for thinking she’d surely be onto album three by now. Taking the time to formulate a debut she’d be proud of now and in years’ time when looking back, Begin to Look Around is the culmination of a young person finding their feet in adulthood and the musical landscape. Coming in at 14 songs and 53 minutes, Begin to Look Around is a pleasant journey from its opening to closing tracks, albeit at times a little emotionally draining.
Gretta Ray is a musician who is more than confident in sticking to and relying on her main asset: her voice. It’s incredibly recognisable and completely welcoming. You know when you hear a sound bite from your childhood that triggers you and all those fond memories start flowing back having been locked away in your memory for an eternity? That’s the familiarity of Gretta Ray’s vocals. There’s a calming cadence and sense of safety to Ray’s vocals across the entirety of Begin to Look Around. Like a warm fireplace in the middle of winter, Gretta Ray’s voice and lyrics fill you with a flowing warmth that fills your body. It feels like home.
All familiarity and warmth aside, the album is first and foremost a coming-of-age album; which honestly isn’t surprising considering it was written during Gretta’s early 20’s. Noting it’s her attempt to present a complete and honest portrayal of who she is now and what brought her to a point of releasing her debut album, it’s fair to say Begin to Look Around has more than ably captured this.
The album has a flowing and uplifting quality to it, starting on the first track “Bigger Than Me” and going all the way through the remaining 13 songs. “Bigger Than Me”, an early single from the album, is all things great about Gretta Ray: her vocals are clear, dramatic and forceful while leaning on the pop sensibilities she has used readily across her previous EPs and singles. Its composition post-bridge is the song’s peak, with some neat strings incorporated into making the song a key in the commencement of the album. Followed up by “Passion”, the album takes a slightly darker tone, with the atmospheric piano and guitar building like a storm throughout. Again, Gretta’s vocals and chants are the key to making the song reach its heights.
“Happenstance” takes the album in a slightly more cheerful and light direction, as the vivid storytelling in Gretta’s songwriting comes to the forefront of the album. Toning it down in the bridge is a masterstroke, before “Happenstance” kicks into gear once again over its closing half minute. It’s lovely, sweet and hopeful and the best closing of any of the songs on the front half of Begin to Look Around.
Taking a look back into her earlier life, “Cherish” is a fond look back in time as Gretta wonders what she’ll have to do or say to make someone look at her the way she does them or the way they once did to her. There’s an underlying level of torment in Gretta’s voice that brings a level of human-ness to the song.
Gretta Ray has spoken at length about her technique and willingness to release songs as ‘duologies’; two tracks released together linked thematically and emotionally. An example of this, and the strongest on the album, is the slow-dawning wisdom of “Love Me Right” and “Learning You”. A personal favourite on the album, “Love Me Right” is the longest song on the album and almost definitely the best. A song about not wanting to settle for second best in a relationship, “Love Me Right” is firm in its message and an anthem for independence. It soars in its chorus and is purely great throughout its entire run. On the other hand to “Love Me Right”, “Learning You” is a hopeful look into a new relationship as Gretta sings about her love of another, which in turn gives her something to hold on to. It’s a gooey kind of love and just really cute stuff.
The toned-down elements of the album, while thematically similar to other moments on Begin to Look Around, do provide a subtle change-up that stops the album from becoming completely repetitive in its vibe and delivery. There’s a familiar warmth to “It’s Almost Christmas in Philly”, while “Wordly Wise” takes us on a globe-trotting journey hand-in-hand with Gang of Youths‘ Dave Le’aupepe.
At times Begin to Look Around does start to sound like the same song back-to-back, but all in all, it’s a strong and completely great debut album from Gretta Ray. Five years in the making, Gretta Ray has arrived on Begin to Look Around and is likely to make more than a few people take notice.