Singer-songwriter Amy Ray is half of the Grammy Award-winning folk duo Indigo Girls. Her solo career is six studio albums strong and includes “Holler,” released last fall. Ray and her band are playing a sold-out show in Portland, but if you don’t have tickets, you’ll get another chance to see them on July 24 at Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield.
Ray, 55, lists the topics covered on the album as late nights, love, addiction, immigration, despair, honky tonks, growing up in the South, touring for decades, being born in the midst of a civil rights movement and the constant struggle to find balance in the life of a left-wing Southerner who loves Jesus, her homeland and its people.
“Holler” is a fantastic, rootsy record that was inspired by traditional country, Southern rock, mountain music, gospel and bluegrass. Several guest musicians are on the album, including guitarist Derek Trucks on the song “Bondsman (Evening in Missouri).” Spread over its 14 tracks are backing vocals from singers Vince Gill, Brandi Carlile, Phil Cook, The Wood Brothers, Justin Vernon and Lucy Wainwright Roche.
“Holler” also has a local connection as it was mastered in Portland by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering. Ray and producer Brian Speiser listened to several favorite songs and realized that Ayan had mastered most of them, making the decision to work with him an easy one.
During a telephone conversation from her home in rural northern Georgia, Ray shared insight about the album along with thoughts on politics in her home state and beyond.
When she finished writing the song “Last Taxi Fare,” she said, she knew she specifically she wanted Brandi Carlile and Vince Gill on harmony vocals. Carlile’s an old friend of Ray and happily lent her pipes, but Gill was a stranger. As luck would have it, Alison Brown, a banjo player on “Holler,” is a friend of Gill and through that connection, Gill’s vocals ended up on the track with Carlile’s, and it’s one of “Holler’s” many standouts.
Take a listen to “Last Taxi Fare”
Another standout is “Jesus Was a Walking Man” with the lines “Mother Mary take my hand/Let’s make that glory land/Some would build a wall and say, ‘Send ’em back from where they came’/But you know who would’ve let ’em in?/Jesus would’ve let ’em in.” Ray said she started writing the song after seeing the photograph of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea during the European refugee crisis.
Here’s a live version of “Jesus Was a Walking Man”
“I wish I had never seen that image but at the same time, you’ve got to see that stuff because that’s the stuff that makes you act,” Ray said. The last verse was written after Trump was elected and the focus turned to the southern border in the United States. “I was just trying to write a song that covered a lot of different immigration areas.”
Ray also spoke about what it’s like being a political liberal and lesbian woman in a historically conservative state. “I play a lot in the area I live, I do a lot of benefits and a lot of the audience is not of my political persuasion, but they come to support the cause, and I’ve lived here for 25 years, so they’re open to me as their neighbor.”
But there’s another side to this coin. “There are definitely some people that would rather hang me than anything, but I know who they are so I stay away from them.” But Ray, at her core, is an optimist who believes that there’s an essence of good in most people. “There are decent people that have these views that you cannot figure out where they’re coming from. It’s this conundrum that’s in the world today because everything is so polarized.”
As for Indigo Girls, Ray said they recorded a new album earlier this year in England, and we can expect an early 2020 release date.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 29
WHERE: One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland
HOW MUCH: Sold out