Amy Ray has a message. She always has. But as half of the Indigo Girls, she was a bit more measured, reserved, and polite, if you will. Still, she wants to be heard and what she has to say on Stag is very much worth listening to.
The disclaimer that it’s a return to her Southern rock and punk roots might turn some folkies off, but it shouldn’t. Stag is punk done in the tradition of Patti Smith and the Replacements rather than the Sex Pistols. It is punk in its rebellious spirit, its contagious energy, and its anti-establishment calls to action. More than that, though, it is pure Amy Ray — her activism and her artistry melding and achieving something remarkable. It shows the full panorama of her as a person and a musician, from political outrage to self-doubt, from hardcore guitars to mandolins.
Yet the consistency remains unscathed, the potency of the message unabated. “Johnny Rottentail” leads the march to glory. A solo mandolin and vocal race each other to the end of this “tale of one bad seed” who was hanged for a crime feeling no remorse, and the sibling who tells the story. The next cut, “Laramie,” is especially sobering in this era of political debate over hate crimes. With a quiet, steady urgency it pleads for an end to the hypocrisy of the rich right wing’s sermons of love and deeds of hate. Then there’s “Lucystoners”‘s attack on the oppressive machismo of the music industry and its lack of support for women and gays.
Not subtle points she’s making, and she’s just three songs into this thing. You still have to get through “Hey Castrator,” which seems to delve into a man’s uncontrollable urges to rape and kill and the physical solutions that would end his torture. Don’t worry. Just keep listening. It’s all good.
Amid the outcries of injustice, all of these songs surely hold personal truths for Ray, but a few seem to be bouts with more personal demons. “Measure of Me” and “Lazyboy” certainly feel more intimate, both musically and lyrically.
To record these tunes, Ray turned to the bands who inspired her melodic wanderlust, handpicking different groups for each song. The Butchies are the most well-represented with five tracks, but 1945 and the Rock-A-Teens make the roster with one song each. And, the riot grrrl dream team of Josephine Wiggs, Joan Jett, and Kate Schellenbach throws down for “Hey Castrator.”
Ray describes Southern punk as “subversiveness with a smile.” That’s the essence of Stag. Bottom line: If you appreciate the heart of Ray’s work with the Indigo Girls, you will love this record.