Like a lot of Southern kids of the ’70s era, Amy Ray of Indigo Girls grew up listening to a lot of Southern rock and mainstream country. And over the last decade or so, the Decatur, Georgia, native has been digging deeper into the roots of that music.
“As I got older – probably in the last 15 years – I started discovering more about the deep country that I really love,” Ray says from her home in north Georgia.
In between playing some weekend Indigo Girls shows, Ray is also taking care of her new baby, Ozilline Graydon, born in November to longtime partner Carrie Schrader. Long tours are not an option these days, and neither are long, drawn-out recording sessions. So when Ray set out to finally make her long-planned country solo album “Goodnight Tender” (released this month on Daemon), she knocked it out over seven days in Asheville. Many of the musicians on the record live there, as well as in Durham and Charlotte.
Ray will play songs from the new album at Motorco Music Hall in Durham on Saturday, with opener Heather McEntire, from the Durham-based band Mount Moriah.
“I’ve been writing songs for this record for 12 years,” Ray says, “and I couldn’t just get my guts up to try (to record) it.”
She says that inkling came from conversations with “punk rock friends,” such as Jon Langford of The Mekons, which led her to explore the classic country of the 1950s and ’60s.
Before long, she was putting ideas on paper. But putting them on tape seemed intimidating when she considered the legacies of George Jones, The Carter Family and Hank Williams.
Eventually, Ray made peace with the realization that she was never going to make the next Hank Williams record. So she made “Goodnight Tender” for herself, and the fun of playing with friends that included brothers Phil and Brad Cook of the Durham folk band Megafaun.
Ray met the Cook brothers back when they accompanied Mount Moriah, which toured as the openers for Indigo Girls.
“Phil has always been a big fan,” McEntire says, referring to Ray and Indigo Girls. “He was entranced by their music for a long time.”
Phil ended up producing four songs on “Goodnight Tender” – something set in motion last January, when he, Ray and McEntire participated in a “Writers in the Round” event at The Casbah in Durham.
He’ll also sing and play keyboards, banjo and guitar in her band at the Motorco show. The group will feature some other North Carolina musicians: veteran session drummer Jim Brock of Charlotte; and Asheville players Matt Smith on pedal steel and Jake Hopping on upright bass.
Some background vocals will be provided by McEntire, whose opening set will consist of mostly new songs played in a trio setting.
For “Goodnight Tender,” McEntire contributed the sad ballad “When You Come for Me,” a song about the desire to be buried on her family’s land.
It’s a perfect fit on an album that touches often on death and spirituality, on songs such as “Duane Allman” and “Oyster and Pearl.”
McEntire, who’s 32 and grew up in the small Polk County town of Green Creek, N.C., says she and Ray talk often about their common religious Southern roots.
“I think that’s why we have this very deep, complex friendship,” says McEntire. “We have a lot of similarities of religious upbringing, and being in the South, and being queer, and just trying to be an artist through all of that.”