Album Review: Rory Strong – Catholic Guilt

Rory Strong is an artist based in California, USA who has just come to my attention thanks to their new album Catholic Guilt.

By Graeme Smith

Feature artwork by Hugo Willis

The album opens with Mr. Kirby. It’s a laidback yet cantering start, featuring an instrumental arrangement that combines the classic with the Avant Garde. The star of the show, however, is Rory’s vocal delivery, full of character and delivering surrealist lyrics. It’s a gripping start.

Desert Cottontails is relaxing and dreamy, recounting an introspective tale rich with natural imagery. Title track Catholic Guilt is an early highlight, full of rousing instrumentals and hard-hitting storytelling. A simmering first verse gives way to an explosive, cathartic chorus full of fuzzy guitar.

Johnsong, written by Rory in collaboration with Simi Kunin and Jeff Bowler, shows a more intimate side of their sound. Stripped-back acoustic guitar accompanies Rory’s vulnerable vocals. The Dog And The Dunes keeps things stripped-back while introducing some traditional country elements. Books On Tape closes the first half of the album with a cautiously uplifting highlight.

Back At Miss Fiona’s is slow and melancholic, augmented with heart-breaking cello. Shelley Duvall keeps things downbeat. Its lyrics are full of visceral, violent detail suitable for the horror actor its named for. Heretic Like You brings us back to country and has some devastating narrative. It’s another highlight.

Easy softens things a little as we head into the album’s final stretch. The Witch Is Alive is a soaring indie rock moment that finishes big before Magazine closes that album with some raw, midwestern emo. Its use of rise and fall means its a memorable conclusion. It’s a final highlight.

Catholic Guilt features Rory Strong on guitar, vocals, bass, xylophone, thundersheet and occasional keyboard, Anna Betancourt on piano, Kristina Richardson on drums, Maeve Hanson on cello, Mike ‘Slo-Mo’ Brenner on steel guitar, and Francis Co on additional vocals. Jeff Bowler did the recording, mixing and mastering. It was recorded at Dream Machine, Long Beach, California with additional tracking completed at Jeff’s house in Westminster, California.

The album will be out on 27 October via Oliver Glenn Records in the US and Heavenly Creature Records here in the UK.