Music Review: Indigo Girls – Beauty Queen Sister

Hi all!

What seems like a lifetime ago, I discovered the Indigo Girls at the tail end of college. Rites of Passage and Nomads Indians Saints started off my love of this folk music duo made up by Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. I wore out my Swamp Ophelia tape in an old Walkman tape player when I was regularly walking around the Denver Tech Center near Fiddler’s Green Ampitheatre (which has since gone through a few name changes and is currently Comfort Dental Ampitheatre). I saw them perform at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, and at least one other venue in Colorado.

But like many easily distracted music lovers, I kind of lost track of Amy and Emily after a while. I have picked up most of my favorite albums on CD over the years and every once in a while have checked in to listen to their latest releases. And though occasionally I heard glimpses of some of what made their earlier albums amazing, through the tinted lenses of experience – both theirs and mine – I was never as caught up in the melodies, words, and harmonies as I was with songs like “Galileo,” “Closer to Fine,” “Pushing the Needle Too Far,” “Prince of Darkness,” “Strange Fire,” “Ghost,” “Mystery,” and “Kid Fears.”

Fast forward to this year – 2011 – and their 14th studio album Beauty Queen Sister. Featuring thirteen new songs in their signature storytelling style. They definitely haven’t lost their touch in creating simple yet complex arrangements, melodies, styles, and harmonies to suit whatever topic they choose to focus on. And those topics vary widely on the album, including my favorite on the CD – “War Rugs,” written about the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Their attention to causes both here and abroad hasn’t let up in the slightest, including support for saving the environment, the rights of Native Americans, and the LGBT rights movement. So support for the Egyptians’ brave stand against a corrupt government fits right in with their strong support for equal rights for all.

Though they’re just as capable of rocking the house as singing a gentle song, I tend to like their softer side. On Beauty Queen Sister there are three songs that fall into that category with different styles.

I already mentioned “War Rugs,” which is about the mostly non-violent revolution in Egypt that began in January 2011 and whose efforts continue today. Seeing the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square on the television news this past January and February was amazing. And obviously it wasn’t just those in the Middle East who were affected, with the continuing revolution in Libya ousting Qaddafi and the other areas affected by the “Arab Spring.” Amy and Emily’s song highlights the lasting effects…

“We’re all growing up together / We’re all making a mark on it. / We’re all damning the consequences. / I want to understand / the soul you have in there / Young Egypt seized the moment / and brought that bastard down / You’ve got technology / And you’ve got archeology / We treated you like punters / until you kicked the goal / now we’re claiming you for our team / ’cause what do we know?”

Freedom is one of those things we have to all tend to or it gets taken away in dribs and drabs until it’s gone. I think that’s the “team” we’re all on. And that struggle for freedom is happening even within our own country. Just ask the people with lifestyles not “sanctioned” by certain parts of the population. Couldn’t we all do with a bit more tolerance and brotherly love?

Also among the softer songs on the album is “Birthday Song.” And it’s a sentiment I often have. “I couldn’t think of a thing to write / on your birthday card / considered the poets / they didn’t know what lay quiet inside my heart / thought of Atlanta / thought of Toronto / all of the places we’d been…” But nothing comes to mind to write down. Instead, I hope my actions speak louder than words and we can share those together. What a wonderful sentiment. Words sometimes seem so hollow and given the chance we should all be happy to share time with one another.

“Damo” is sort of halfway between soft and loud, with its Celtic feel. And it makes me want to get up and jig. Nobody wants to see that, but it’s impossible not to feel like dancing. I think it owes that dancing spirit to Eamonn de Barra’s whistles and flute and the full-throated backing vocals of Irish singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey in the background along with the spritely rhythm guitar and the beat of the bodhran (Irish Drum).

Beauty Queen Sister mixes the soft, loud, and energetic sides of the Indigo Girls and should make fans sit up and take notice. It’s available at your favorite music store now, so I’d encourage you to give it a listen. If you want more info about the album or anything else you want to know about the Indigo Girls, you should also check out the Indigo Girls home page for biographical info, tour details, albums, and more!

This article first appeared in a slightly different form at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Enhanced by Zemanta

Music Review: Indigo Girls – Holly Happy Days

Hi again…

Those of you who know me know I’m not a fan of Christmas music. After one holiday season working retail in a mall with Christmas music piped in 24×7, you could say I now have a bit of an allergic reaction when I hear traditional arrangements of carols like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.” Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for fun or different approaches to these old, dated, repetitive songs.

Now, back in college, I became a huge fan of the Indigo Girls. Rites of Passage, Nomads Indians Saints, Swamp Ophelia, and 1200 Curfews still get played regularly at my house. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have been playing together since the mid-1980s, with their amazing harmonies, heartfelt lyrics, and arrangements that keep their music from falling into the same ruts other artists sometimes hit after playing together for 20+ years.

So when I heard the Indigos were releasing a bluegrass-tinged holiday album – Holly Happy Days – I knew I had to check it out. And I have to say I wasn’t disappointed.

With twelve tracks that includes a few covers, classics, and originals, the album should appeal not only to lovers of traditional holiday tunes, but also those looking for some new and different choices. A cover of Woody Guthrie‘s “Happy Joyous Hanukkah” (with background vocals from Janis Ian and Mary Gautier) sounds just as good as classics like “Oh Holy Night” and originals like “Mistletoe.” And the bluegrass feel adds an intangible quality to the already impressive vocal harmonies and arrangements of these classic songs.

What floors me is that a holiday album can seem original these days. I’ve heard so many arrangements of the usual suspects that I tend to just tune them all out. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with traditional sounding carols and hymns being recorded time and again, but it’s just not for me…

But when I heard the slow, emotional pleas of “Mistletoe,” I knew this wasn’t your usual holiday album. With Ray’s expressive, deeper voice asking “please baby please / just let this love be” after a kiss under the mistletoe, I felt her calling for a chance to slow down and enjoy the season and let the fire burn low. And I loved the slow pick of the banjo and guitar, keeping the song rising and falling throughout.

With songs like “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which also features the voice of Brandi Carlile, the duo becomes a trio accompanied by the fiddle. I’d never heard this traditional holiday hymn, which is in the same vein as “Little Drummer Boy” asking what a visitor might give the newborn child – “What can I give him, poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd, I would bring my lamb / if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part / yet what I can I give him: give my heart.” It builds and builds the harmonies up to that last powerful verse, expressing that simplest of wishes for the season – it’s not about gifts and wrapping, lights and tinsel – it’s about caring for each other.

Add to that the simple arrangements of songs like “There’s Still My Joy” with Emily starting a capella with a soft piano. The lyrics and gorgeous harmonies of Amy and Emily express that “One tiny child can change the world / One shining light can show the way / through all my tears for what I’ve lost / there’s still my joy / there’s still my joy for Christmas Day.” How can you argue with that sentiment? Again, it boils down to the simplest idea of Christmas – not the overblown media and merchandising mayhem it has become.

I’m really not a Scrooge or a Grinch, but when I think of the winter holidays — the decorations, music, and shopping sometimes overwhelm me. Holly Happy Days makes me think that perhaps there are people in the world who know that the true meaning of the holidays is to give of yourself and pass along some hope. Thanks to Amy and Emily of the Indigo Girls, I think I just received my first gift of the season.

If you are looking for alternative Christmas and Hanukkah music choices for this season, definitely check out Holly Happy Days. It has a little in there for lovers of the traditional and the not-so-traditional holiday tunes. And I think it’ll be playing softly in the background as we share some family time come Christmas Day.

For more details about the Indigo Girls, their albums, and their touring schedule, be sure to check out their website at IndigoGirls.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Indigo Girls albums from Barnes & Noble below:

Enhanced by Zemanta