Best known as one-half of the Grammy-Award winning folk rock duo Indigo Girls, Amy Ray delves into the sounds of traditional country, Southern rock, gospel, bluegrass and mountain music in her sixth solo album “Holler.”
Ray and her band will perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 11 at Sylvia Theatre in York with Danielle Howle.
Although Ray grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line in Decatur, Ga., it wasn’t until later in life that she discovered her affinity for country music.
“Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton had some hits, and when I heard a hit on the radio, I’d buy more stuff by Dolly and check out everything else she was doing,” Ray said. “She was an idol. A woman writing great songs in a man’s world. Loretta Lynn is the same way.”
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A few years after her first punk record debuted, she started hearing about Bloodshot Records in Chicago, punk artists who ventured into country music. She said it motivated her to consider the similarities in writing among different genres of music.
“When you go back and listen to Woody Guthrie and The Carter Family and you discover the roots of country and blues and protest music, all of it starts morphing together,” Ray said. “I realized I wanted to try to tackle this country music that was influenced by all these other things.”
Her new release “Holler” includes musical cameos by Derek Trucks, Brandi Carlile and Vince Gill. Phil Cook and Justin Vernon accompany Ray on “Didn’t Know a Damn Thing,” a song about growing up white in the South and oblivious to the challenges facing non-whites.
Ray said the song was influenced by “Those Bones are Not My Child,” a book about the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981 that also touches on the Civil Rights movement and post-Vietnam War era in Atlanta.
“I was born in ’64 and grew up through that era in the ’80s. There were lynchings, voting right battles for African-Americans, the American Indian movement and Wounded Knee in 1973,” she said. “How you can be alive during all these things and have no idea what’s going on?”
Straddling her political and personal life, Ray writes from the perspective of a progressive, gay Southerner who takes pride in her heritage.
“The songs are all my own compositions and tell stories of late nights, love, addiction, immigration, despair, honky-tonks, growing up in the South, touring for decades, being born in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and the constant struggle to find balance in the life of a left-wing Southerner who loves Jesus, her homeland and its peoples,” she said.
Bearing the same name as the album, “Holler” is a love ballad about the long-haul of loving someone regardless of their faults. She wrote it after going through one of the most difficult times in her life.
“My daughter was born five years ago, and my dad died 10 years after she was born,” said Ray, 54. “It took me a long time to figure out how to hang onto myself and be a good parent, a good partner and grieve — and do all those things at once.”
She says music gives people the energy they need to move on and breaks down social barriers. Living in a polarized society, she hopes her songs remind people that it takes all sides to solve problems.
“I do believe that music has the ability to crack people open,” Ray said. “Those walls are not coming down any time soon, but we can chip away at them.”
Want to go?
What: Amy Ray concert
Where: Sylvia Theatre, York
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 11
Tickets: Advance $20/Day of show $25