The Indigo Girls’ latest release Staring down the Brilliant Dream is a 2 disc, 31 track CD of recordings of live performances by one of the best known folk/pop duos in history. The album takes its poetic title from a line in the song Love of Our Lives from the Indigo Girl’s 2009 studio album Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. The cuts have been cherry-picked from shows recorded between 2006 and 2009. Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is the best kind of ‘best of’ album, bringing new life to tunes I myself have sung along with, just as the concert audience can occasionally be heard singing along on the CD. That’s fair warning to anyone with an aversion to such unabashed optimism.
The duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have been playing together for decades, taking their name from the Indigo grown throughout their native state of Georgia, and used to make a rich blue dye. With lush guitar backing, the Indigo Girls’ sound is full, without overwhelming the lyrics. And the vocal harmonies, sometimes difficult to get right in live performance, are gorgeous but never cloying.
Ray and Saliers are separate but equal songwriters, and deserve credit for their part in keeping the singer-songwriter genre in the mainstream. There’s a quarter of a century of soul and heart contained in these upbeat songs. From their first hit in 1989 Closer to Fine to 1999’s single Go to the Saliers-penned Love of Our Lives, Emily and Amy are passionate about life, love and social causes. There are a few topical tunes I wished had been included. But every single one that is there is worth a listen. The CD package comes with heaps of photos taken by fans and notes about the writing of the songs, which bring a new perspective and freshness to these well-loved classics.
The Indigo Girls phenomenon infiltrated popular culture in a way that might seem impossible for two regular girls with acoustic guitars. Legendary horror writer Stephen King set his chilling novel Rose Madder at an Indigo Girl’s benefit concert. And ‘The Indigo Girls’ was once the answer to the big bucks question on supermodel week at TV’s ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’
The Indigo Girls won a Grammy award for ‘Best Contemporary Folk album’, narrowly losing the Grammy for ‘Best New Artist’ the same year to ‘singing’ duo Milli Vanilli. The latter went down in music history when they later had the award revoked, as it turned out that they weren’t simply lip-synching to themselves, as in most music videos, but that they hadn’t actually sung a single note on their own album. Whoops!
Fans of the Indigo Girls will surely enjoy Melbourne duo Bluehouse, and Adelaide trio Fruit, two Australian acoustic groups that owe much to the Indigo Girls energetic folk style. Cuts from Staring Down the Brilliant Dream are currently streaming free on the Indigo Girls website: www.indigogirls.com.