A double-disc set of sophisticated studio recordings and acoustic fare.
Colin Irwin 2009
Few have ever juggled the delicate balance between artistic integrity and commercial popularity more effectively than Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, aka Indigo Girls.
Lacing taut, spiky songs with sufficient memorable melodies and sumptuous harmonies to seduce the wider world, they’ve sold truck loads of albums, won a Grammy, enjoyed the same major record company status as former label mates Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine, championed numerous right-on causes and become gay icons. Mass appeal and artistic honesty seldom sit easily, but if Indigo Girls felt compromised by their past they solve any dilemmas of conscience by setting up their own label to assert complete independence on this ‘deluxe’ double CD – one of sophisticated studio band recordings, the other acoustic versions of the same material.
It’s a ploy used in 2008 by Billy Bragg on his Mr Love & Justice album and, like said record, most of the songs tend to sounded better in the purer, stripped-down format. After two decades of music making, including 10 albums for Epic Records, their instinct for a catchy hook and a radio-friendly chorus is never far from the mix, while their reunion with veteran producer Mitchell Froom – whose own impressive CV includes Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow – smoothes the edges enough to make the much-heralded back-to-their-roots move to indie status an almost imperceptible switch.
Yet it’s impossible to feel too badly towards Indigo Girls. They may never record anything to match their early breakthrough albums like Rites of Passage and Swamp Ophelia but, unlike some of their latter-day major label outings, they err here on the side of restraint and are several cuts above the armies of winsome singer-songwriters coming off the production line in America at regular intervals. A beguiling quirkiness lurks beneath the surface and while True Romantic sounds worryingly similar to Radiohead’s Creep, the slightly disquieting sense of darkness of Ghost of the Gang, Fleet of Hope, Second Time Around (not the Lady Gaga song!) and, especially, Digging for Your Dream still makes them alluring.