By: Editor | August 12, 2008
Amy Ray always inspires her listeners to reconsider outmoded ways of viewing or doing things. Before she sets out to turn your thinking on its end, she first sweats her own drops of blood over it all. In her songs, she lays out her own human struggles with the topics she brings to the table in all their rawness and ugliness. While her previous solo cds were confrontational in the most refreshing way, Didn’t It Feel Kinder comes like a stealth ambush. It feels a little road weary, tender and yes, kinder.
While her former cds did what she set out to do by taking one back to the high school days with all of the struggles therein, this cd conjures up very different images for me. As the first chords strum though my speakers, I am once again 16 and getting ready at my best friend’s house before the county fair and carnival in the autumn. You know the feeling I am describing–full of anxiety, anticipation, and horniness–like you are on the brink of a rite of passage. Once you arrive, your senses are overwhelmed with the rides’ flashing lights, the smells, sounds, tastes of the new exotic world that has invaded your small town. You like the eccentric freakishness around you and somehow, don’t feel out of place. You never want to go back to normalcy. This is the space I was transported to as I listened to Didn’t It Feel Kinder. The CD opens with a track entitled “Birds of a Feather.” The stark feeling of the instruments are interwoven with her voice’s urgency. I blinked back tears as I listened to the prayer-like lyrics. The sentiment of longing to understand and be understood by our human family is timely. “She’s Got To Be” weaves a slithery slinkiness around a funky beat, influenced by Al Greene who Amy Ray was listening to at the time of the album. This song is the one I was looking most forward to hearing in its entirety. Ray relates her struggle with the integration of her gender and sex through her vocals as much as through the lyrics. It is brilliant, forceful and tender. “Bus Bus” has to be one of the sweetest love songs I have heard in a while. The vulnerability Ray exhibits throughout this both lyrically and vocally is heartbreaking. We have all been there along with her, our phones on vibrate, just in case our baby calls in the middle of the night to say I love you. Once again, she brings validation to our human experience, offering compassion and strength. “Cold Shoulder” is catchy and tastes like funnel cake. It’s a celebration of life, love and the trickiness of sexuality’s fluidity. This is the dogs’ favorite tune on the cd. They are dancing to it as I type. In “Who sold the Gun”, Amy puts a punk twist on the subject of school shootings, the decay of the family and community accountability and the irony of war as a tool to bring about peace. She paints images of hypocrisy vividly with each syllable she spits out. By the time “Out on the Farm” rolls around, you feel you’ve been emotionally spent in a blissful way. It is a soothing melodic piece but in typical Amy Ray fashion, makes you turn over the subject matter like a stone in your hand. “SLC” begins and so does the amusement park flashing lights again. She nails the subject of corporate radio and independent media in this political piece. “Blame is a Killer” is my favorite track. Ok. I said it. I just like solo Amy as crunchy and raw as possible. Ketchup not required. “Stand and Deliver” does just that. This love song proudly describes the love we all crave despite the pain and achiness accompanied with loving someone without walls erected, or exit routes in view. “Rabbit Foot” closes the cd like a hopeful prayer for better times, for unity and new directions. I think with Amy as a voice for our time, these hopes might just be possible. As always, she challenges us to communicate, open our minds a bit further and to put feet to our beliefs. It is southern gothic at it’s finest. Amy is joined by Brandi Carlile, Tomi Martin and Trina Meade of Three5Human, Arizona and Kaia Wilson and Melissa York, formerly of the Butchies. Greg Griffith produced. Didn’t It Feel Kinder is available now.