Indigo Girls are Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. I was surprised to find that the new album, Look Long, is their sixteenth studio album and that their first album was in the late 80’s. My recollection is that I first came across them at a festival, on my way to get a beer; I was wandering past where they were playing, drawn in by the sound and I watched the rest of the set. “Good enough to stop a passer-by going for a pint” might not be the catchiest strap-line, but it does tell you how good the duo are.
Look Long, the new album is equally captivating. They describe it as telling their origin story. As their website puts it, they have “reunited with their strongest backing band to date to create … a stirring and eclectic collection of songs that finds the duo … chronicling their personal upbringings … [They] are tackling the mechanisms of perspective… “We’re shaped by our past; what makes us who we are? And why?”
‘Country Radio’ is perhaps the most instantly accessible track and they’ve previewed it in the days when they could play live. It’s a song about listening to the music and stories on country radio, and it’s a song that got a noticeable audience response from the line “I’m just a gay kid in a small town who loves country radio”. Thirteen words that give you the outline of a whole novel in your mind, of a whole life story about growing up in a small town. It’s as concise a song – and as catchy – as the Mellencamp or Simon songs on the same theme.
‘Shit Kickin’’ (unsurprisingly given the title) struts its way as an opening track. ‘Change My Heart’ is also raunchy – and if you’ve ever debated the most unusual opening line to a song, you can add this one to the list: “The four fundamental forces came to play in the American schism”. ‘Howl At The Moon’ is upbeat, at times feeling like country music flavoured, albeit sparsely, with Irish and Reggae. Good fun.
‘Muster’ sprang from thinking about America’s gun culture but widens the theme moving from “all the evil we helped let loose” to those who want to meet on common ground, not as a house divided but to “get this right”. Like a fair number of albums coming from America at the moment, there’s a great deal of creativity on Look Long from reflecting where the country is at and where it might be going.
There are musically gentler songs. My two favourites add very strong personal stories to their wider reflection. The title track ‘Look Long’ opens with God, the Devil and a current sense of Armageddon. It has a moving melody and, partly by relating memories of Saliers’ grandmother, is a plea to take a perspective on America – to look long and to try to keep the faith, to do better than our short-sighted plans and collusions.
The final song is ‘Sorrow And Joy’, an elegy for Saliers’ younger sister who died. The title is one of many delineations of opposing forces in the song (along with water and oil, tallest to smallest, believers and unbelievers, haters and lovers et al). It’s a Hegelian dialectic of a song, which Saliers describes on their website as “The contradictory emotion of seeing [someone’s] vibrancy and knowing that they’re gone”. The song, and therefore the album, finishes with a look to a more positive future: “In the end we must hold them together”.
I don’t know where America is heading at the moment but, as I indicated above, there’s some damn good music coming out of the current tensions in the country – and Indigo Girls’ Look Long is part of it.
Artists’ website: https://www.indigogirls.com/#band-section
‘Howl At The Moon’: