Amy Ray has gone country, and her scenic-route detour was not as out of the way as some fans might think. The singer-songwriter, best known as half of the Grammy-winning Indigo Girls folk-rock duo, has produced a solo album, Goodnight Tender, which is country music in the purest -- and purist – sense of the word. Recorded last spring at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, N.C., this collection of 11 originals by Ray, along with a cover penned by Heather McEntire, is scheduled for release January 21st, 2014 from Ray’s Decatur-based company, Daemon Records.
Legendary country songwriter, Harlan Howard famously summed up country music as “three chords and the truth,” and Goodnight Tender offers the kind of stripped-down melodies; honest, hat-in-hand emotions; and keening pedal steel and old-time strings that once emanated from tear-stained, honky-tonk jukeboxes. In her take on the early Nashville Sound, she sings movingly about dogs, pills, Duane Allman, and heartache.
For decades, Ray has performed with Emily Saliers in the Indigo Girls, and their ongoing success derives, in part, from intricate, ethereal harmonies, from the interplay of their distinct voices and sensibilities. Ray also has turned up the volume in her solo career as an ax-slinging rocker, producing six albums with punk edges and defiant, powerhouse vocals. In both capacities, she integrates the personal with the political, the dynamics of relationships with principles of progressive social justice.
Goodnight Tender marks a dramatic departure from those formats and themes, though her vocals, even when snarled at high decibels, always convey a rending ache that serves folk, punk, country, or any refrain tinged with pain. Ray convened artists she trusts with fiddle, banjo, dobro, pedal steel, guitar, mandolin, bass, and drums, and then arranged their microphone placement like an old-school sound engineer to create an authentic, vintage sound, gently imposing Strum And Twang on her Sturm Und Drang.