Indigo Girl, Amy Ray, explores the troubled history and themes of the Deep South with mixed results – musically adept, but often far too OTT.
For her tenth album, ‘If It All Goes South’, Georgia-bred Amy Ray, one half of folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, recorded it live to tape at Nashville’s Sound Emporium.
On the intro to ‘They Won’t Have Me’, a reimagining of a song by her old band, which sees the musicians expertly switching from acoustic to electric instruments, the false start has been left on the recording. Overall, though, the sound of the record is polished and slick – a little too much for this writer’s tastes. ‘Subway’ – a tribute to New York radio DJ, Rita Houston, who died in 2020, starts off as stripped-back country-soul, but it soon, err, all goes south, and turns into a big, overblown MOR ballad with syrupy strings, wailing female backing vocals and stadium rock guitar. Thankfully, things go back down to earth with the playful, eco-themed ‘Cowboys and Pirates’ – a woozy blend of horns and honky-tonk piano.
‘Joy Train’, which opens the record and deals with civil rights, is chugging, Hammond B3-laced blues-rock, with banjo, while ‘Chuck Wills’s Widow’, with its mournful fiddle, is named after a nocturnal bird that sings the same sad song all night – that’s country singer-songwriter gold right there. Talking about the latter track, Ray says: “I was feeling down and trying to focus on what makes me feel better, which is sitting outside at night.”
To be fair, there wasn’t much time for her, or her band, which includes guitarist Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan and Duff McKagan), keyboardist Daniel Walker (Heart, Ann Wilson, John Fullbright), pedal-steel player Matt Smith (The Honeycutters), banjo player Alison Brown, fiddle player/guitarist Adrian Carter, bassist Kerry Brooks, and drummer, Jim Brock, to sit around – the album, which was written during the pandemic, was completed in nine days. Guest musicians include Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell, The Highwomen’s Natalie Hemby, Phil Cook, and I’m With Her.
There’s certainly an eclectic mix of styles at play – perhaps too many – from the anthemic folk-rock of ‘They Won’t Have Me’, to ‘Tear It Down’, which tackles the troubled history of the Deep South – the final line is “The epitaph I long to read is: ‘Here lies slavery” – and has a shuffling jazz feel, with brushed drums, double bass and strings. The god-fearing ‘A Mighty Thing’ is an electrified bluegrass hoedown and closer, ‘North Star’, is a grandiose gospel-rock song, with yet more wailing female backing vocals.
Commenting on some of the issues she’s tackled on the album, Ray says: “I’m a Southerner who wants to do the work of healing racism. I really think it’s just about the most important work we have to do in this country, and in the world in general.” That’s to be applauded, but must she do it in such an overwrought and overproduced way?