There are few people who have been more instrumental in the southern queer music community than Amy Ray. Ray, one half of the duo Indigo Girls (along with Emily Saliers) is an outspoken activist whose forceful songwriting has empowered generations of audiences, whether with her lifelong friend and musical partner Saliers or in her solo work. Ray has also championed the careers of many queer southern musicians (such as H.C. McEntire and Amythyst Kiah, who will be joining her on tour) by helping to build a rich network of musicians in Atlanta, GA and beyond. On Friday, Ray released the new single from her upcoming album Holler. "Sure Feels Good Anyway" grapples with Ray's sense of queer pride and southern pride, asking how the two can be reconciled.
"I'm happy to be a Southerner but sometimes...not bitter about it but frustrated by what's around me," Ray told Billboard. "I feel very rooted in the South and very proud of it in a very deep way and I could never leave it. As a liberal and a Democrat and a lesbian I'm in a distinct minority here, but at the same time when I'm in trouble and I need some help with something, people help out and don't worry about our differences. ... Now, I'm sure if I was a black lesbian living down here I don't know if the same thing would happen. So there's a lot of different layers to this conversation."
The single is a slight departure from Ray's previous album, Goodnight Tender, which was a mellow crooner that took its cues from classic country music. Ray's contributions to the Indigo Girls tend to have a harder edge, and "Sure Feels Good Anyway" marries Ray's punk background to her country inspirations.
The song showcases what Ray does best. I like to imagine her songs as paintings. For me, she uses Americana conventions as a palate and paints something new but familiar with them. When you live in a place where most people's values feel like the complete opposite of your own, your daily life is a peculiar mix of abject terror and genuine appreciation for the common points you share as humans.
That heady mix lends itself to the song's central tension: the first few minutes of the song have an aggressive beat softened by a backing horn section -- I finally get what people love about Lucero. Ray describes her frustrations with trying to live her life in a community whose worldview feels impossible to reconcile with hers. However, Ray uses the song's bridge to lift us into an urgent love song -- for her homeland and for the woman she holds in her heart.
Holler was produced by Brian Speiser and Ray at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, N.C. Ray is supported by her regular band: Jeff Fielder on guitars, dobro, bass, and mandolin, Matt Smith on pedal steel, dobro, and guitar, Adrian Carter on fiddle and guitar, Kerry Brooks on upright bass and mandolin, Jim Brock on drums and percussion, and Kofi Burbridge (Tedeschi Trucks Band) on keys. Holler also features a packed lineup of guests, including Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), Brandi Carlile, Vince Gill, The Woods Brothers, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Carrie Schrader, Phil Cook, and SNCC Freedom Fighter Singer Rutha Mae Harris.
Holler Track Listing
1. "Gracie's Dawn (Prelude)"
2. "Sure Feels Good Anyway"
3. "Dadgum Down"
4. "Last Taxi Fare"
5. "Old Lady Interlude"
6. "Sparrow's Boogie"
7. "Oh City Man"
8. "Fine with the Dark"
9. "Tonight I'm Paying the Rent"
11. "Jesus Was a Walking Man"
12. "Sparrow's Lullaby"
13. "Bondsman (Evening in Missouri)"
14. "Didn't Know a Damn Thing"
Amy Ray Tour Dates
Oct. 23 - Macon, GA @ Hargray Capitol Theatre
Oct. 24 - Durham, NC @ Motorco Music Hall
Oct. 26 - Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge
Oct. 27 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
Oct. 28 - Asheville, NC @ The Grey Eagle
Oct. 30 - Winston-Salem, NC @ The Ramkat
Nov. 7 - Tampa, FL @ Crowbar
Nov. 8 - Ponte Vedra Beach, FL @ Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Nov. 9 - Statesboro, GA @ Averitt Center for the Arts
Nov. 11 - York, SC @ Sylvia Theater
Nov. 13 - Nelsonville, OH @ Stuart's Opera House
Nov. 14 - Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark
Nov. 15 - Chicago, IL @ Maurer Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music