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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1553

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Indigo Girls: Poseidon and the Bitter Bug
by George Graham

(IG/Vanguard 79896 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/8/2009)

The current popularity of folk-influenced acoustic singer-songwriters traces its origin back to the late 1980s when Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega enjoyed a fair amount of commercial success. In a typical music industry attempt to get on a trend, there was a spate of recordings by women artists in the genre, many of whom might never had gotten much of an opportunity on the recording scene without Chapman and Vega. As part of that movement, it was 22 years ago, in 1987, that Indigo Girls recorded their debut album, and they have become one of the more durable and popular of the artists to emerge from the scene. Indigo Girls are now out with a new recording, their first in about three years, called Poseidon and the Bitter Bug.

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have always been a kind of perfect folkie duo. Their vocal harmonies together are superb, and yet they are quite different musically. Both write songs, but Ms. Ray is the more rock-influenced and harder-edged, while Ms. Saliers is the more romantic, and musically laid-back. This perhaps may explain their staying power, along with the fact they come up with a lot of great music, in the folk tradition of lyrics that have a lot to say. They often explore social issues, something underscored by the duo's involvement in social activism apart from music. But they have also created memorable love songs as well.

After about 15 years on the major label Epic, they are now doing releasing their music independently, with distribution through the venerable folk label Vanguard Records, home of Joan Baez in the 1960s. Amy Ray also recently released an independent solo album.

But the Indigo Girls are definitely together and in fine form on Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, whose title comes from lyrical references from two songs, one from each of the members. After perhaps being pushed in a more rock, or at least a louder direction on their later major-label recordings, this CD is in the classic folkie mode, with a tasteful backing band, but acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies dominating.

The CD was produced by Mitchell Froom, a veteran and eclectic producer who has worked with many over the years, including the Indigos on their previous recording. Froom also played keyboards throughout the recording. Other regulars on the album include Claire Kenny on bass and Matt Chamberlain on drums. According to the band's blog, Chamberlain was only available for four days, so they recorded pretty much the whole album in that time. They worked around their home base of Atlanta, and actually completed the album close to a year ago. They started working on it around February 2008, and then Ms. Saliers asked for some extra time, complaining about writer's block. But she nicely overcame that, and contributed some fine songs. Some may feel a little dated, with some veiled references to the Bush-era political environment, but they are subtle. Ms. Saliers says she was staying at a beach house when doing some of the writing, and so some nautical references crept into her songs. The CD alternates back and forth between the five songs each by Ms. Ray and Ms. Saliers.

Opening is a Saliers song, Digging for Your Dream, which considers how ones past dreams may not have worked out. It's nicely done. <<>>

Following is an Amy Ray song, Sugar Tongue, which has some references to events of the day, such the situation in Darfur. <<>>

Love Of Our Lives by Ms. Saliers is one of the highlights of the CD. The song reflects on one's life and relationships. It's one of those songs that is open to a number of interpretations. <<>>

Perhaps a little out of character for the Indigo Girls is the Amy Ray song Driver Education, a kind of high-school coming-of-age song. <<>>

Also a bit of a surprise is What Are you Like, a rockier tune by the usually more folky Ms. Saliers. It is something of a love song. <<>>

Another of the standout tracks is the Amy Ray composition Ghost of the Gang, which considers how fate can deal cruel blows. <<>>

Emily Saliers says that the first song she wrote for this CD is I'll Change, which is in the kind of classic Saliers style: folky with introspective lyrics. <<>>

The CD ends with what Amy Ray says is the closest thing to a soul song she has come up with, True Romantic. Its topic is also in keeping with some old soul songs, lost love and a plea for the beau to return. <<>>

Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, the new recording by Indigo Girls, coming as it does 20 years after their major-label debut, is a quite enjoyable CD by the durable musical duo. It features all the Indigo Girls trademarks, the great vocal harmonies, the articulate but often poetic lyrics that run from love songs to social consciousness, and some understated, tasteful band arrangements.

Producer Mitchell Froom suggested that Ray and Saliers record all the songs in acoustic versions as well, and there is a deluxe edition double CD version Poseidon and the Bitter Bug that has those acoustic performance, interestingly, arranged in a different order. The band versions on the regular edition of the CD are nicely done and I think will serve as the definitive versions.

Our grate for sound quality is an A-Minus. The sound is generally clean and there are no unnecessary studio tricks. But the dynamic range of the recording could have been better. However, this recording does a better job of preserving the differences between loud and soft than some of their major-label releases.

After more than 20 years together recording, the Indigo Girls are still at the top of their form.

(c) Copyright 2009 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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