Denizens of Atlanta's live music scene over the past decade or so are well familiar with the presence of the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray. Whether at a showcase for her own label, Daemon, or just a regular night out, Ray can be seen be-bopping around to the music. What is perhaps surprising is that the woman who has made a career of, lets face it, pretty folkie type music, is a punk. Let the sound system rip on an old Hüsker Dü song, or the band onstage get really loud, and Amy's head starts nodding just a bit faster.
So the fact that her first solo release, Stag, sounds like a wonderful mixture of Scrawl and Joan Jett (who guests on one track) won't be surprising to those of us who share a hometown with her. But the rest of the land might be surprised at the raw guitars, pounding drums and savage lyrical content of the record. Which I quite imagine was in part her intent-to kick yet another stereotype into the dirt, and grow a new idea from old soil. Utilizing a score of different musicians from the garage gods Rock*A*Teens (with the lovely and ungodly talented Kelly Hogan returning to the band on guitar and vocals for the cut) to The Butchies, Ray has wedded her personal musical vision with just the right backing. From the fury of "Lucy Stoners" (named for the women's group of the 1920s who resisted taking their husbands name in marriage) with its wonderfully hummable chorus of "Lucy Stoners don't need boners" to the Neil Young/Crazy Horse-ish "Laramie", this is a great record. Hell, the opening cut, "Johnny Rottentail" name checks The Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten over furious mandolin strumming -- and it's one of the records calmer moments!
For those who only know Amy Ray as an Indigo Girl, or as a socially active label owner will find this record a snarling, beautiful surprise. But those fans whose Indigo Girls collection exists at the fringes of their spectrum counterbalanced by Jewel and other such "strum strum females" might run in flight from the language and passion of this record, and such is a pity. Because when Amy Ray decides to kick some ass, she does it nearly as well as those bands that make her head bop.