Amy Ray has been through a lot of changes over the past couple of years. Her musical partnership with Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls, finished out their contract with Epic Records, and then signed with Hollywood Records. The album they released, Despite Our Differences, was well-received by their dedicated fan base and critics alike, but despite the apparent success, the band and label parted ways earlier this year.
In the midst of all this, Ray wrote and recorded her third solo studio album, Didn't It Feel Kinder. Unlike the previous two albums, this is not a collection of strident rock-with-punk-attitude songs mixed in with poppier dance-rock anthems. Rather, this album signals a shift to a more introspective Ray, focusing on mellower arrangements with only a few hints of her earlier style (such as the lead single, "Blame is a Killer").
Fans will likely be surprised upon first listen — I know I was — but there were signs of this new Amy Ray on Despite Our Differences ("Three County Highway" and "Dirt & Dead Ends" come to mind). Keep on listening, because eventually this new sound will become as familiar as the old one.
The two opening tracks are slow, melancholy anti-folk tunes that make use of repetitive poetry to convey meaning and story. Perhaps this is why the third track, "Bus Bus," stands out for me. The song makes use of rhythmic repetition as well, but with a bit more funk and soul in the arrangements. I was reminded, a little, of Rilo Kiley's "Moneymaker."
"Cold Shoulder" is an acoustic nod to the poppy party tracks from Prom ("Driver Education," "Blender"). Ray is one of few songwriters I am familiar with who can deftly combine a political protest song with a love song and come out with something so infectious that you can't help but nod along with the beat. She uses the same trick on "Who Sold the Gun," minus the love song bit — just straight up danceable anti-war political protest this time.