Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Curfew That Wakes The Listener Up To The Indigo Girls

The Good: Good vocals, Decent lyrics, Good music, Live sound suits the Indigo Girls, Album Length
The Bad: Stories between vocals do not have adequate volume, Some lyrics/music are sub-par
The Basics: A decent collection of live performances on two discs gives the listener a lot of material presented with an intimate acoustic concert sound that compliments the lyrics well.

I have not, historically, enjoyed albums by the Indigo Girls so far. I've reviewed Shaming Of The Sun (reviewed here!) and Come On Now Social (reviewed here!) and I enjoyed neither. I've pressed on because I'm convinced that there must be something to them. It brings to mind the classic joke where two people are having dinner at a restaurant and one says, "The food here is terrible!" to which the other responds, "Yeah, but at least the portions are huge!"

With the Indigo Girls's double album 1200 Curfews, the portions are indeed large and I'm pleased to say that overall, I enjoyed the set. With twenty-seven (mostly) live tracks spread over two very full discs, 1200 Curfews is an impressive musical experience that gives a lot of value to the listener. Unlike the prior studio albums I've listened to, on this set, the Indigo Girls have a fresh, very alive sound to them. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers give wonderful vocals throughout, making it - at the very least - a pleasant album to listen to.

The thing about 1200 Curfews is that it's the first live album in a long time that I've listened to that I felt captured a truly live concert feel. I've heard "Galileo" and "Least Complicated" before and these versions are nothing like their studio counterparts, at least in terms of polish and production. That freshness - able possibly because the songs were culled from different live performances - is refreshing and different.

Perhaps that's what Indigo Girls excels at; performing. Their studio albums have been underwhelming and the only thing that I immediately had a problem with on these two discs were the stories. I like hearing stories about songs from artists I respect - though they seldom hold up over multiple listens of an album. On a few tracks, like "Galileo" and "Power of Two," the vocalists tell a story about the song they are about to perform. Relative to the sound quality and volume level, these interstitials are seriously downgraded, meaning one has to crank up their stereo or miss the story (and remember to turn it back down as soon as the music plays!).

Indigo Girls present more of a folk presentation on this outing than on their studio albums and I found I enjoy that more than the polished pop-rock take on some of their songs on the albums. So, for example, "Power of Two" is presented with quiet acoustic guitars and the vocals of Ray and Saliers, with nothing else. This has the feel of a very intimate venue and that puts focus on the lyrics, without any distractions.

And Saliers and Ray can write! Of the twenty-seven tracks, Amy Ray wrote ten, Saliers wrote ten and the others are written by other artists. The Indigo Girls also provide their interpretations of Joni Mitchell's "River," Bob Dylan's classic "Tangled Up In Blue," and Neil Young's "Down By The River." As well, the standard "Midnight Train To Georgia" is presented and I have to say, their soft vocals resonate better than the Ray Charles version!

The nice thing about the lyrics of the Indigo Girls is that they do more than simply sing about love or loss. A number of their songs present social messages. For example, on their song "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" - written by Buffy Sainte-Marie and presented on disc 1 live and disc 2 as a studio cut - they sing about the problematic aspects of the reality of policies toward the Natives. They open the song brilliantly with, "Indian legislation's on the desk of a do right congresssman / Now he don't know much about the issues, so he picks up the phone / And asks the advice of the senator out in indian country, / A darling of the energy companies who are ripping off / What's left of the reservation." That's powerful stuff that you don't hear on the Top 40 stations!

Moreover, they broaden their message by simply making wonderful poems set to music. In a tribute to Virginia Woolf, Emily Saliers writes, ". . . They'll sweat in their hopelessness / In the rage we're all the same / The men of anger and the women of the page . . ." It's beautiful and poetic.

Saliers and Ray sing the songs with a delightful acoustic sound to every track on these discs, making a very homogenous sound. There are no songs where there are excessive instrumentations either. The pair manage to keep the album sounding fresh with just their guitars.

In all, this might be the best set for those who are not fans of the Indigo Girls. I suspect this set would be enjoyed by most anyone who likes folk-rock music and a strong feminine vocal presentation. The best tracks are "Virginia Woolf" (disc 1) and "Galileo" (disc 2) and the weakest tracks are "World Falls" (disc 1) and "Chickenman" (disc 2).

For other live albums by former Artist Of The Month artists, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“Jackie’s Strength” (single) – Tori Amos
Beginnings - Shania Twain
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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