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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1356

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Indigo Girls: All That We Let In
by George Graham

(Epic 91003 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/25/2004)

The recently noted 40th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in the US got me thinking about the odd juxtaposition of the ephemeral nature of pop music, versus its durability. After their arrival in the US in 1964, the Beatles were only together for six more years, and yet they left a remarkable body of music in that relatively brief period of time. These days there are performers who sometimes let six years pass between successive albums. And while the commercial media-marketed pop music scene pushes the latest disposable star of the week, there are performers who have maintained durable careers, working for decades and continuing to make worthwhile new music. This week, we have the latest effort by a duo who have been making music together for two decades, and who continue to find receptive audiences, Indigo Girls. They have just released about their tenth album, called All That We Let In.

Atlanta-based Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, who prefer not to use the word "the" as part of their group name, appeared with their debut LP in the mid 1980s, first as an independent, and then on a major label. In a way, they were able to ride record company interest in female folk artists made possible by the success of Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega in the late 1980s. While interest in the genre has largely disappeared from the commercial media, the scene remains very active, and Indigo Girls have, rather surprisingly, maintained their spot on Epic Records. And their new release makes no compromises, it's another collection of thoughtful articulate songs, classic vocal harmonies and tasteful, timeless arrangements.

Their modus operandi remains the same, with the duo writing their songs separately, though their styles are beginning to get a little closer to each other on this CD, after years in which it was not hard to tell an Amy Ray song from one by Emily Saliers, with the former being more energetic and rock-oriented, and the latter being the more acoustic, laid-back romantic. They also work with largely the same personnel who appeared on their last album from two years ago, Become You. The band includes keyboardist Carol Isaacs, bassist Clare Kenny and drummer Brady Blade. They also work again with producer Peter Collins, who despite a career that was established in heavy metal, has produced most of Indigo Girls' finest albums. And this one can be counted among them. It's a thoroughly appealing recording that highlights all that the pair can do so well -- create memorable, hummable songs with lyrics that embody a combination of poetic ambiguousness with lines that state truths in new ways. Though one of the more socially active groups on the scene, Indigo Girls' do write their share of love songs, and that seems to be the dominant theme of this CD. There are as well, references to the world at large and bigger issues that can intrude in a person's life and relationships.

Of the 11 songs on the CD, this time Emily Saliers claims authorship of the majority of six, while Ms. Ray pens the rest, and the CD is arranged so that the songs alternate by composer.

All That We Let In opens with one by Ms. Saliers, Fill It Up Again, which neatly combines personal relationships with environmental concerns. The piece is about an affair gone sour, while she uses the environment as a metaphor, in this very attractive song. <<>>

The rockier sound favored by Ms. Ray is apparent on the first of her songs on the CD, Heartache for Everyone, with its ska feel. Ms. Ray says she was thinking of the punk band the Clash when she wrote it. <<>>

The title track, All That We Let In is by Ms. Saliers. It was inspired by the death in an auto accident of one of her activist friends. <<>>

Perfect World by Ms. Ray is scheduled to be the first single released from the album. It again combines consideration of the world as a whole in the context of a personal relationship. <<>>

Come on Home by Ms. Saliers juxtaposes an attractive musical setting with decidedly downcast lyrics. <<>>

Following that is another breakup song, Amy Ray's Dairy Queen, and in its pleasing roots-rock setting, the lyrics try to take an optimistic view of the dissolution of the relationship. <<>>

For me one of the highlights All That We Let In is Emily Saliers' song Something Real. Lyrically, it's again about relationships, in this case trying to rekindle an old one, while musically the song shows a level of sophistication not usually associated with folkies. <<>>

Ms. Ray's standout work on the CD is Tether, one of the rocker tracks, that puts the electric energy level to good use. For the first time on one of their albums, both Ms. Ray and Ms. Saliers do dual lead electric guitars. Joan Osborne makes a guest appearance doing backing vocals. Lyrically the piece carries on a stream going back to the 1960s, in which the state of the world is never far from one's consideration. In the end, the song takes an optimistic outlook. <<>>

In more than 20 years together, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, together known as Indigo Girls have kept the traditions of folk-rock going, from their social activism, which sometimes but not always finds its way into their songs, to the almost sister-like vocal harmonies, to their tasteful and timeless musical backing which could have come from anywhere in the past 30 years. As usual, they come up with a batch of worthwhile and memorable songs, and on All That We Let In, the music that is particularly appealing and melodic. They manage to do everything right, and still come up with enough new ideas that they continue to advance their art. I can really think of nothing to beef about musically on the album. Every song is worthwhile -- there's nothing I would consider filler.

Our grade for sound quality is "B." The good mix and nice audio clarity were negated by the usual major-label style heavy audio compression which wrecked the dynamic range of the recording. This is one of those CDs that reaches the digital max on almost every beat, leaving no room for the ebb and flow of the music.

While pop stars, especially nubile young women of dubious musical talent, come and go like the flavor of the week, it's nice to know that Indigo Girls are keeping intelligent folk-derived music alive, and continue to do some of their best work, attract growing numbers of fans, and even manage to avoid being dropped by their major record label.

(c) Copyright 2003 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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