Watch Now: Amy Ray’s “Joy Train”

From her recently released solo album, an animated video to lift the spirit in the face of struggle

Photo: Sandlin Gaither

Amy Ray (center) and her bandmates.

Amy Ray has been making records since the 1980s as part of the legendary folk duo the Indigo Girls and later as a soulful solo artist fronting her own band. She’s been a social justice crusader for nearly as long, championing a range of issues, from voting rights to immigration reform, and co-founding Honor the Earth, a nonprofit dedicated to Native American environmental initiatives. She’s also a mom who knows what it’s like to take the baby on a long drive in hopes of inducing a nap. All of those identities are wrapped up in her new song “Joy Train” and its accompanying music video, which G&G is proud to premiere below.

Ray, who lives in Dahlonega, Georgia, released her tenth solo album, If It All Goes South, last month, a soul-searching, spirited gem featuring collaborations with Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell, the Highwomen’s Natalie Hemby, Phil Cook, and the band I’m With Her. “Joy Train,” its toe-tapping opening track, is a meditation on holding onto happiness in the fight for justice. The song tells the story of a mother and her baby cruising in the car through the Deep South. The ghosts of slain civil rights heroes Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. follow the narrator and ultimately give her hope; the song’s Bible-verse refrain, “Death where is thy sting to be found,” celebrates the triumph of their spirit over their fate.

The song’s uplifting message was partly inspired by a Black church revival Ray stumbled upon while riding her bike around Jackson, Mississippi. The joyful scene moved her, though she was cognizant of channeling an experience that’s not hers. “I know I’m never going to get it right because I’m white and I don’t know enough. I’m still a student. I’m still learning,” she says. “I feel party to all the oppression and racism of the South because I’m from so many generations of Southerners, but I’m also inspired and constantly informed by these ghosts of civil rights heroes that wake me up and say, ‘What’s wrong with you? Sing, dance, have joy.’” 

The video is the top-to-bottom creation of Ray’s friend and North Georgia neighbor Julie Best. An artist and motion-media designer, Best illustrated and animated the video’s whimsical forest animals, which she layered over B-roll of the Georgia mountain countryside. Ray is the featured mama bear, while a cricket conveys the banjo stylings of Alison Brown.

The result is a creation that’s uniquely Ray and uniquely Southern, with its driving Dobro guitar and lively fingerpicking set to an imaginative folk-art romp that will make you want to do as the narrator does at the end: “I open my window, spring is on the bloom…I’m jumping on that joy train, y’all make me some room.”

Watch the video for “Joy Train” below. Ray will be touring with the Indigo Girls this fall and says solo concerts are in the works for early 2023; she’ll join the Tedeschi Trucks Band at Ryman Auditorium in February.