Amy Ray (Indigo Girls) will be coming through town with her top notch band to play songs from her acclaimed 2014 solo country release, Goodnight Tender. She will also include a select group of songs from her earlier solo releases, but here’s a bit about her country exploits!
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 emanatedfrom 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-slingingrocker, 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.
“I love to scream and growl, but I also love the soft, sweet singing of artists like George Jones,” Ray says, “so I slowed the tempo, got into a lower register, and let the songs and the musicians around me dictate a different direction. I was tempted to slip a political song in here, but Iwanted this album free of anything that defines identity in any way.”
What she strove for instead was the rush of pure feeling.
“I didn’t want the laborious arrangement process – I wanted recordings I didn’t have to mess with too much,” she says. “So these songs are more visceral than intellectual, with a strong, wistful sense of setting that enables you to sense the creek and the dirt as well as theunrequited love. I wanted a record that sounds good and feels right when you’re driving down a rural road.”
Ray enjoys plenty of opportunities to road-test these songs on her secluded, wooded property in north Georgia, where banjos and bluegrass still echo throughout the mountains. “At some point, those sounds are bound to seep into your life,” she says.
Inspired by her neighbors, Ray, who is a vegetarian, penned “Hunter’s Prayer” for this album.
“One night this huge buck appeared in the fog – his antlers still hadn’t shed their fuzz — and stopped and looked at me in this long moment, in the way animals have of seeming to see right into you,” she recalls. “I thought of the Native activists I know, and the hunters who know wanting to find your bearings in life.”
Hank Williams Sr. would tip his Stetson hat in approval.
Sally and George:
In the town where country music was born—where two states come together on one street—a spark lit and a duo was ignited.
At the 2012 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, on the way to take the stage with his band, Sol Driven Train, guitarist/singer George* found himself sidetracked by Della Mae, an all-girl, Grammy-nominated bluegrass band. It was that group’s bass player, Sally**, who most captivated his attention.
That evening, after their respective sets, the future partners first met on a Bristol sidewalk. Their electric eye contact—over a conversation about their shared passion for travel and music—forged a deep impression on them both.
Two years passed before their worlds again collided. Wracked by unspoken questions, George emailed Sally a bold love song recounting their meeting, spun into the story of a vivid fantasy about the paths their lives could take together. Upon listening to his courageously awkward three-minute pickup line, Sally fell in love.
Weekends away from their bands’ busy touring and recording schedules found them stealing away to George’s hometown of Charleston or Sally’s home in Nashville. They hatched plans for airplane rides to exotic rendezvous.
But after touring through over 25 countries with Della Mae—including serving as a musical ambassador for the U.S. Department of State—Sally realized her musical path was leading her in new directions. Following a tour to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Sally parted ways with her long-time bandmates in late 2014.
With her heart and soul at ease, Sally hunkered down to write new original music, filling her newfound free time with impromptu performances, gardening and surfing adventures with George.
Likewise, George found himself full of fresh inspiration for his primary creative outlet, Sol Driven Train. Formed at the turn of the millennium among a group of childhood friends from Mt. Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island, the group’s national touring schedule—along with airplay on Sirius XM’s JamOn channel—helped them build a reputation as rhythmic rock ‘n rollers, fueled by a collectively positive outlook on life and live performance. Sol Driven Train hosts their own annual homegrown music festival on Isle of Palms, SC, and frequently tours the American West, New England and the Virgin Islands.
Time spent amongst Sally’s talented musical friends in Nashville soon kindled George’s renewed passion for Americana music. Merging the worlds of Sol Driven Train’s freeform live performances and the bluegrass scene’s structured professionalism, the pair began writing new songs with stripped down instrumentation, emphasizing song craft and melodic vocals.
Drawing from their love for the classic duet styles of Johnny Cash and June Carter, as well as contemporary artists like Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, or Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (and even their Charleston compatriots, Shovels & Rope), the pair discovered that their love for each other translated into an incomparable musical melding.
“When two voices join together to make the rafters ring, it makes my heart sing,” expresses Sally. “Vocal blend and musical chemistry comes easily with George.”
George agrees: “Sally brings so much to the table. Bluegrass roots, easygoing lead and harmony vocals, imaginative writing, and a sexy stage presence.”
Most of all, the pair are having the time of their lives, rediscovering the fun of a new musical partner, both with extensive resumes, coming together to form a duo that bridges classic harmonies and the widening world of Americana music. They’re at work on a debut record in Nashville. In 2015 and beyond, look for them performing at festivals and venues across the country.