Singer-songwriter Amy Ray, playing Thursday in Olympia, has many moods besides mood indigo.
Sure, she’s best known as half of the Indigo Girls, Grammy winners who are still going strong 27 years after they released their first album. But Ray also makes punk and rock albums, and this year introduced her first country effort, “Goodnight Tender.”
Although Ray grew up hearing plenty of country in Georgia, it didn’t capture her heart until the 1990s.
“When I was growing up, I’d listen to Southern rock,” she said. “I listened to Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton and people like that.
“After I’d been in the punk world for a while, my friends were turning me on to old school Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn,” Ray said in a recent phone interview. “Punk is a populist style, and traditional country fit in with that as far as the philosophy.”
And since 1993, she has lived in a rural part of North Georgia, where bluegrass and traditional country are everywhere.
“In 2001, I started writing songs that were kind of country,” she said. “I started putting them aside and saying, ‘One day, I’m going to do a country record.’ In the meantime, I made a lot of rock records, which I’d always wanted to do, as well.”
In January, the day for country arrived, and “Goodnight Tender” was released.
“Ray’s Atlanta upbringing may not have emerged directly from country and western, but her roots clearly run deep into this music, enough so that these 11 originals and one obscure cover (from Megafaun, whose frontwoman also sings it) feel genuine, lived in and entirely authentic,” wrote Hal Horowitz of American Songwriter (americansongwriter.com). “Lyrically, she sticks to what she knows and sees.”
But these days, what she’s seeing has changed, with her lyrics growing out of her life in a rural town.
“When I was doing the rock stuff, I focused a lot on gender and sexuality and some political stuff,” she said. “This record is much more storytelling and a little bit more reflective. The subject matter just feels more agricultural. ... There’s a totally different lyrical vibe.”
On Thursday, don’t expect to hear any punk or rock material. Ray’s new band is focused on country.
“This band is pedal steel, Dobro, banjo, guitar, bass and drums and Wurlitzers and Hammond B3s,” she said. “I don’t think the other songs would translate very well with this band.”
Phil Cook, who will open the show, is a member of the band. “He’s doing this cool rootsy solo thing,” she said. “It’s like old-school field recordings.”
While the Indigo Girls’ folk is a lot closer to country than Ray’s previous solo work, this album is a departure even from that.
“When the Indigos do countryesque stuff, it’s more in the vein of The Band or more poppy,” she said. “This is pretty traditional, country-and-mountain music and gospel.”
And it’s definitely a far cry from her solo work.
“My other solo stuff was electric and strident and loud,” she said.
Ray definitely has alternative credibility: Her punk band played at Homo A Go Go, Olympia’s queer multidisciplinary festival.
But country isn’t so far away from that, she said.
“I’ve heard some folks say that country is where punks go to die,” she wrote on her website at amy-ray.com. “I don’t know about all that, but I imagine the last mile is the most lonesome, and there’s nothing like the sound of a pedal steel to keep you company.”