Amy Ray – Lung of Love

There’s a line about halfway through Amy Ray’s new album that I can’t stop singing. “There’s a little Joe Strummer/ In my DNA,” she declares on “Little Revolution,” one of the more straightforward and best songs on the widely varied and frequently excellent Lung of Love. It’s a chromosomal cocktail that drove her to release gritty solo albums to balance her Indigo Girls songwriter fare. Yet the lines between those personae continue to blur.

Ray’s first two top-notch outings, Stag and Prom, were throwback punk rock workouts, complete with political messages that connected the dots to the IGs as well as buzzing guitars that cut the cord. Then came 2008’s curveball, the polished and muddled Didn’t it Feel Kinder, for which Ray enlisted producer Greg Griffith and delivered material largely indistinguishable from her day job.

Griffith is back at the helm, and the first few tracks feel like a Kinder continuation, a reach for (modern country?) radio respectability with cloying keyboards and backing vocals. Then they drop the gloss while still toying with the equation, and the spark magically returns. Scott Manring’s banjo on “Crying in the Wilderness” hits the mark, as does Giovanna Clayton’s cello on the plaintive closer “Bird in the Hand,” and the midtempo title track plays like a late ’80s white soul classic a la Crowded House.

Right after the Joe Strummer reference Ray adds a shout out to Lynne Breedlove of queercore pioneers Tribe 8 – but aside from this brief, subtle wave of the gender equity flag she largely supplants her usual politics with heartfelt love songs. Even further afield is “The Rock is My Foundation,” which opens with Ray on mandolin, gets a nice vocal assist from Brandi Carlile, and builds to an un-ironic religious hoedown/revival.  Speaking of vocals, Ray spits them into a scratchy cassette recorder for the unbridled punk of “Give It a Go,” fueled by the drums and guitar of old Butchies pals Melissa York and Kaia Wilson, who appear throughout. It’d be easy to dismiss as a manufactured gimmick if it didn’t work so damn well.

On “Little Revolution” Ray also sings, “The kids say ho-hum/ They think I’m growing old,” a sentiment she’s also self-effacingly revealed in stage banter. Sure enough, nearly all the stylings on Lung of Love would sound at home on twenty-five year-old vinyl. But when they’re delivered with such verve, I don’t see why that matters.

Amy Ray
Lung of Love