, just like the majority of her 90’s female rock colleagues, choose the most traditional and orthodox songs to be the lead singles for their projects, and it’s really a shame because the majority of the albums these songs represent are varied, thoughtful and diverse affairs. Ray’s fourth solo outing, Lung of Love
, is no exception, with second track “Glow” leading the call, and it’s frustrating because “Glow” is the most Amy-Ray-by-numbers track on the record. It’s in no way a bad song itself, but it’s utterly conventional, with power-pop chords strummed on electric guitar over a 4/4 beat and a somewhat catchy melody. Two minutes of solid lyrics, songwriting and orchestration, but it ultimately fails as a calling card for Ray’s fantastic fourth solo album.
The reason “Glow” is a misstep is because Lung of Love
is a beautifully sequenced, inspirational and absorbing effort that demonstrates an artist willing to embrace change and experimentation, even without her own musical vernacular. Where the first three records (Stag
and Didn’t It Feel Kinder
) fit the pop/punk aesthetic that marked Ray as the harder-edged half of folk/rock darlings The Indigo Girls
, Lung of Love
expands beyond those parameters and dips into territory that is a welcome change in her solo career. While it’s only ten tracks and lasts just over thirty minutes, Ray’s latest offering runs the gamut, but is tied together with the same high level of artistic quality that has marked her output since the late 1980s.
Opening track “When You’re Gone, You’re Gone” is a fairly mellow affair, anchored by a sexy bass and drum groove that recalls “She’s Got To Be” or even the Indigo Girls’ track “Share The Moon.” Its lyrics delve into some pretty somber territory, with the protagonist lamenting the loss of a love to another, including the embarrassing last-ditch effort at regaining their spark at her wedding to someone new, which then just leaves Ray singing, “when you’re gone, you’re gone,” with a definite heaviness to her voice. But the way the backup singers do Motown flourishes of “Gone! Gone!” during the chorus keeps it from getting too cloying or trite, and so yes, it’s another breakup song, but it’s one that makes you want to pour a fantastic Manhattan, maybe dress up a little, dance and just cry a little. Classy breakup songs are extremely hard to pull off, but Ray totally hits the nail on the head.
Third track “I Didn’t” joins the pantheon of some of Amy Ray’s best. Usually she doesn’t go for such down-tempo rock ballads like these on her solo albums, so this is a nice change from the pattern. Lindsay Fuller
, Heather McIntire
(of Mount Moriah) and Brandi Carlile
offer beautiful harmonies (of course), but it’s the slightly swung chord changes and raspy/full timbre of Ray’s voice that really make the song. No doubt it will be a staple for Ray’s acoustic sets from here on out, but the full-voiced band version (replete with organ) is especially delightful.
There are twinges of country as well that pepper Lung of Love
, which isn’t surprising since Ray is working on a full-out country album, but it’s a nice cross-over, since Ray has a fantastic grasp on non-hackneyed country music. “Crying In The Wildnerness” is an upbeat and rocking affair, augmented greatly by A Fragile Tomorrow
’s tight harmonies and a charming banjo line. “The Rock is My Foundation” begins as your typical Amy Ray mandolin song, but soon opens up and flourishes because of Brandi Carlile
’s incredible harmony. When this piece was first done solo, it was somewhat tedious and dry, but the addition of Carlile’s voice, a honky tonk electric guitar, grooving bass and blazing drums all make it into a surprisingly outstanding work.
Still, it’s two of the final songs, “Lung of Love” and “Bird in the Hand” that show Amy Ray’s able songwriting hand and are major highlights of the record. The former recalls the youthful energy of Prom
, but brings a real thoughtful and mature lyrical voice that demonstrates Ray’s firm poetic grip that is rivaled by so few. She sings, “This lung of love, this failing breath / the compass of the heart that won’t rest / the murmur’s beat, the stalling gait / the compass of the heart that won’t wait,” as she reaches out to a lover about the struggle of being a traveler and agent of the world (oh, the life of the touring musician!) and a homebody. It’s a touching and novel take on the subject, elegantly executed and intensified by Greg Griffith
’s superlative production. “Bird in the Hand” is again mid-tempo, but it’s a beautiful send off. A cello line comes in after fifteen seconds, which reveals Ray’s newfound interest in strings (showcased heavily on the last Indigo Girls record Beauty Queen Sister
), and then there’s Brandi Carlile to provide that delicious Americana flavor and round it all out. It’s one of Amy Ray’s best, and a perfect closer to such a great effort.
While there’s many high points to Lung of Love
, and ones that certainly stand toe-to-toe with Ray’s better moments since the 1980s, there are still the few that feel somewhat phoned in. “Glow” suffers just because it’s sandwiched between such excellent pieces, “From Haiti” is afflicted just like Ray’s “War Rugs” (from Beauty Queen Sister
), in that it’s an activist’s piece, but ultimately just doesn’t have many poetic teeth to keep it interesting or original. And “Little Revolution” just feels to standard Amy Ray fare. Maybe this seems like a weak criticism, but for an artist with such diverse talents and artistic interests, to keep coming back to the punk-y, spunk-y three minute pop-rock power song with half-hearted lyrics about love for a few times with each solo record feels forced now and uninspired.
That said, Lung of Love
is a standout effort, and one that really continues to demonstrate why Amy Ray remains an influence for so many up-and-coming folk/rock singer/songwriters. It’s not her most cohesive, her most forceful or her most heartbreaking, but it’s a mature and dynamic outing that hones her skill and really delivers. She may not be reinventing the wheel, but the wheel she’s working with is pretty damn impressive.