Beginning with the Indigo Girls' Mountain Stage debut in 1991, Amy Ray has proven herself to be one of those rare artists who is never bashful about expressing what's on her mind musically, socially or politically.
Her latest release, Holler, finds Ray embracing a rich, pastoral sound created with the help of six simpatico musicians. Not surprisingly, Ray gravitates to themes of independence and freedom, both emotionally and spiritually and she offers it with a renewed sense of power and confidence. The opener, "Sure Feels Good Anyway," is a gritty take on the Southern man experience with notable solos from the band, especially banjoist Allison Brown. Pedal steel player Matt Smith brings a wistful air to "Holler" that simmers beautifully.
"Sparrow's Boogie" is an Appalachian rocker which Ray wrote as a paean to the late Georgia poet Byron Herbert Reece. Musically, it features Jeff Fielder and Adrian Carter (guitar and fiddle, respectively) but it's drummer Jim Brock's tasteful groove that powers the song through the breakdown and rave-up ending.
One of the set's most interesting songs musically and lyrically is "Oh City Man" which reflects Ray's philosophy with beautiful simplicity. The tune gets an old-timey feel from Fielder's dobro while Brown's banjo takes the song out in exquisite style with a lengthy outro.
On the closer, "Didn't Know a Damn Thing," Ray reflects on personal experiences and the turbulent history of the country during the '60s. It's a powerful and anthemic song that puts history in perspective and offers a heap of wisdom, and likely some food for thought, appropriate for a modern age as well.
- "Sure Feels Good Anyway"
- "Sparrow's Boogie"
- "Oh City Man"
- "Didn't Know a Damn Thing"