Amy Ray is Back…with a Country Album
by Cat Johnson
Amy Ray has always been in and around the roots music scene. Her work with the Indigo Girls, while falling into the pop/rock category, has acoustic, Americana threads woven throughout and her solo work combines the storytelling, instrumentation and delivery of a folk-inspired artist. But her solo work also has a tendency to lean into indie, post-punk, underground territory that has left some Indigo Girls fans scratching their heads wondering when the next “Closer to Fine” will be coming around.
On Ray’s latest, titled Goodbye Tender, she embraces her acoustic side and delivers what is a solid country album—think roots country, not pop country. The album is the culmination of 12 years of Ray writing and tucking away songs for the country album she always hoped to make.
Hailing from Georgia, Ray writes that she grew up listening to Southern rock and punk more than country music and that her love of mountain music and traditional material came later in life. But on Goodnight Tender, she traces her roots, her own life, the people around her, and even gives a nod to the late-Duane Allman. The songs are honest and catchy, stripped of non-essentials. There are some sad, pedal-steel-tinged ones, some sweet, mandolin-driven ones and plenty of twangy, boot-tapping ones. They’re all delivered in Ray’s trademark, low and rugged voice, and explore her nicely-aged, somewhat weathered perspectives.
The one lyric that seems jarringly out of place is this line: “Skip to my lou / to the dubstep sound.” If ever there was a place that I didn’t want to hear the word dubstep, it’s on a country album. It jars the listener out of an emotional timelessness where love, pain, heartache and beauty reside and plops them back in the gadget-driven 21st century. I can only assume that this is Ray’s intention.
Producer or co-producer of all the tracks, Ray took the old-school approach to recording Goodnight Tender, laying the tracks down live to two-inch tape. She writes, “We tried to stay true to old recording styles—using old mics, old reverb plates and sometimes all gathering around one microphone of the song called for it.”
Standout tracks include the gospel number “The Gig That Matters” (not terrible surprising—the Indigo Girls, both daughters of the bible belt, have always had a hint of gospel/spirituality in their music.); “Duane Allman,” a tribute that acknowledges Allman’s inimitable and sorely missed style (Susan Tedeschi adds guest vocals on this one); “More Pills,” a resignation story that sees its subject trading dreams and days gone by for pills; and the lonesome lullaby, title track, “Goodnight Tender.”
If I had to find a weak spot on this album, it would be the previously mentioned dubstep reference. But even that rings true with Ray, who has always brought her honest take on life and love to her music. Of all the music I’ve been listening to lately, this is the album that’s getting repeat spins on the turntable. This might be the bridge that brings Indigo Girls fans who were put off by Ray’s punk-ish solo work, back to her camp and endear her to the thriving alt-country, Americana crowd.