I don’t usually get very excited about a press release, but word of an Amy Ray (Indigo Girls) solo country album intrigued me. Gotta wait til January 28, 2014, though. Little birdy told me we might be talking with her soon.
Dahlonega, GA: Amy Ray has released the first single, “Oyster and Pearl,” from her upcoming album, Goodnight Tender. As half of Grammy-winning songwriting folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, Ray has always been a a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. But her upcoming solo release, on Ray’s own Decatur-based imprint, Daemon Records on January 28, 2014, will be a career first for her — a pure country music album. Recorded last spring at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, N.C. with guests Justin Vernon, Heather McEntire (Mt. Moriah, Merge Records), members of Megafaun and vocal appearances by Kelly Hogan and Susan Tedeschi, this collection features 11 originals by Ray, along with a cover penned by McEntire.
“‘Oyster and Pearl’ is about the hope for a simple life and a simple death,” Ray told Paste Magazine, which premiered the song. “I want the listener to feel like they are sitting on a river bottom, watching the world and their days go by, just contemplating life in an easy way. I want it to feel wistful but sure, something with some age on it.”
Ray enlisted an impressive roster of collaborators for this track, including Justin Vernon, Megafaun’s Phil Cook, Mount Moriah’s Heather McEntire and Hiss Golden Messenger’s Terry Lonergan. The track was recorded live to tape at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, N.C. and mixed by Trina Shoemaker who gives the recording a warm, intimate sound.
Goodnight Tender marks a dramatic departure from Ray’s previous work, both as a solo artist and an Indigo Girl. Along with a group of trusted artists and collaborators, Ray’s sessions included fiddle, banjo, dobro, pedal steel, guitar, mandolin, bass, and drums gathered ’round a few microphones to create an authentic, vintage sound.
The songs were written over more than a decade. “I wrote ‘Broken Record’ in early 2000 while playing a few shows in Montana for Honor the Earth (the Indigo Girls’ charity organization), imagining being a bartender, missing his/her traveling lover,” Ray says. “‘My Dog’ was a little song I wrote on the bouzouki before I played much mandolin. ‘More Pills’ was one of my earliest tunes, a contrite love song about trying to rescue lost potential. The song ‘Anyhow’ came to me when I was standing in the woods watching one of my dogs get a deathly hold of a copperhead; I was thinking about half a life left.”
Legendary country songwriter, Harlan Howard, famously summed up country music as “three chords and the truth,” and Goodnight Tender offers just that — the kind of stripped-down melodies, honest, hat-in-hand emotions, keening pedal steel and old-time strings that once dominated tear-stained, honky-tonk jukeboxes. In her take on the early Nashville Sound, she sings movingly about dogs, pills, Duane Allman and heartache.
“The bloodlines and kinships in music feel pretty powerful and infinite to me these day,” she says. “I’ve heard some folks say that country is where punks go to die, I don’t know about all that, but I imagine the last mile is the most lonesome, and there’s nothing like the sound of a pedal steel to keep you company.”