CD Review of Didn’t It Feel Kinder by Amy Ray
Recommended if you like
Indigo Girls, The Butchies, Patti Smith
Label
Daemon
Amy Ray:
Didn’t It Feel Kinder

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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F
ans who have grown accustomed to Amy Ray’s periodic solo detours (this is her third release, following 2001’s Stag and 2005’s Prom) functioning as ragged DIY interludes between Indigo Girls albums will be in for a bit of a shock the first time they cue up Didn’t It Feel Kinder. On her first two albums, Ray seemed to be on a mission to prove just how much she could do outside the Indigos umbrella – and that she could do it harder, louder, and more nakedly personal – but this time out, she’s delivered nothing more than a good old-fashioned record.

This is not an insult. Short, tight, and wholly enjoyable, Didn’t It Feel Kinder contains traces of the familiar – it’s easy to imagine “Cold Shoulder,” for instance, nestled between Emily Saliers cuts on an Indigos disc – while still giving Ray room to roam. Working with producer Greg Griffiths (Le Tigre, the Butchies, Vitapup) seems to have freed her up to just rock out and have a good time – and that’s exactly what she does here, joined by a crew that includes guitarist Tomi Martin, singer Brandi Carlile, and Asheville indie-rock collective Arizona.

As anyone who’s ever listened to an Indigo Girls album could guess, Kinder is – like much of Ray’s other works – heavily political. But she reins in her weakness for stridency here, draping her manifestos in bright ‘n’ catchy pop/rock accoutrements. Griffiths has done Ray and her listeners a solid here, giving the record a warm, colorful feel that Ray’s earlier solo discs have, for all their strengths, been lacking; the arrangements for several tracks – including, believe it or not, the scathing, Virginia Tech-inspired “Who Sold the Gun” – are downright fun.

Amy Ray

Ray doesn’t entirely avoid the sort of stereotypical folk hokum that the Indigos have been accused of falling back on – opening track “Birds of a Feather” includes the Baez-worthy couplet “If we’re birds of a feather / Then why can’t we migrate?” – but those moments are rare, and even when they occur, the songs and performances make them easy to forgive. In particular, “Bus Bus” begs to be turned up and put on repeat; Ray says it was inspired by the sounds of an opening act at an Indigos gig, throbbing through her dressing room walls, and it’s got all the frenetic energy you’d expect.

“Energy” is the key word here, really – the best solo albums function as a creative release for their creators, not just clearinghouses for cuts that didn’t make it at the day gig, and whether or not that’s actually the case with Didn’t It Feel Kinder, it certainly feels like it. It likely won’t make much noise outside Indigo Girls fan circles, but this album stands on its own, and should appeal to anyone with a love of smart lyrics, memorable melodies, and a little bit of volume. You know – rock & roll.

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