The buzz on Yahoo! about Amy Ray’s Didn’t It Feel Kinder began with an August 6, 2008 story on CNN. Amy Ray performed “She’s Got to Be” for the news giant and then giggled self-consciously, reminding me how much I appreciate the honesty and straightforwardness of these anti-pop stars. Amy Ray isn’t trying to sell anything, she just wants to explore and make music.
Didn’t It Feel Kinder is Ray’s third solo album and another departure from the Grammy-winning and widely-loved Indigo Girls (one of my favorite bands of all time. and I’m not really a folk music guy.). It features an impressive guest line up, including TLC-collaborator Tomi Martin, Brandi Carlile, former members of the Butchies, and even Madonna. The album is produced by Greg Griffith, who helped to bring us Le Tigre (bless his heart). Some say he brings to this album a raw, rockin’, almost punkish (at times) sound. But all this name dropping seems a little hokey when Amy Ray strolls out of the stereo like an old friend and tells me to put aside my fancy pants, unhook my arms and legs from this grotesque marionette, and join her out on the farm with some crazy kids from Alabama.
On “SLC Radio”, she praises a politically progressive Salt Lake City radio station, “fightin’ the good fight for me”. Because, seriously, she’s “not here to fuck the family”. Obviously. She wants to “shake the same chains” that all of us, “across this nation”, want to shake. “There’s a big, big love I need to be a part of”, she says on “Blame Is a Killer”. And throughout Didn’t It Feel Kinder’s diverse collection of snapshots, old letters, and earnest diatribes, the gentleness, the shimmering brilliance of Amy Ray’s hopeful message of togetherness—on that farm in Georgia with friends and family, laughing and playing music—brings to light a big, big love and renders null the demonizing effects of misguided politicos who seem to want to make the sacred, holy experiences of individuals and groups of individuals into something abstract, non-human, and therefore justifiably destroyable for the sake of…what? The family? But wait, the family’s right here. Amy Ray is singing about it.
Songs like “Who Sold the Gun” have a grand, polished, over-the-top pop sound which becomes an ironically theatrical backdrop to her subject matter: really horrible things that are actually going on regularly these days—like school shootings. Even when it’s corny, you forgive her, because you get the feeling that it’s really her, and she is one of the good guys. Sometimes she and the band jam, sometimes they build into reckless, wailing climaxes, and it works either way. The dissonance of “Who Sold the Gun” resolves into a sort of homecoming with “Out on the Farm”—a personal meditation on love, self-searching, new beginnings.
The single, “She’s Got to Be”, features charmingly muffled drums, deep bass, golden harmonies. Maybe it’s an homage to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. On the chorus, power bests style, and “She’s Got to Be” turns really beautiful. And then it moves back to slick ‘70s funky disco. Here, it works again. It’s funny. It’s fun.
This whole album is fun. And when it’s not fun, it’s addressing serious political and social issues unironically and unashamed. Amy Ray stands and delivers. And I want to follow her to the same place that I wanted to follow the Indigo Girls: out to the farm.