Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Indigo Girls Sufficiently Sell Rarities

The Good: Some interesting tracks, Good lyrics, Decent voice and sound
The Bad: Little that is terribly original.
The Basics: A decent collection of Indigo Girls covers, b-sides, demos and live tracks yields a remarkably cohesive and qualitatively solid album.

It seems like most artists that have a real core audience often get to a point in their careers where their rarities, cover songs and b-sides become sought after by collectors and fans, regardless of the quality of them. They often get compiled into albums that are mediocre collections that are often more horrifying for what they reveal than enlightening. I recall being distinctly disappointed by Sarah McLachlan's Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff (reviewed here!). In fact, the only such compilation I have in my permanent collection (outside the bonus discs to R.E.M. and U2's greatest hits albums) is Hem's No Word From Tom (reviewed here!).

Enter the Indigo Girls, a duet that has a core audience. This is a two-person Lilith Fair and with over twenty years of making music, it seems reasonable that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers would create such a compilation album for their fans. Rarities is a collection of Indigo Girls b-sides, remixes and cover songs. With eighteen tracks clocking in at over seventy-five minutes worth of music, Rarities is a worthy collection of folk-rock music that showcases the range and diversity of the Indigo Girls's work.

First off, Rarities is a treat to casual fans of the Indigo Girls. For those who loathe hunting down tribute albums, charity works and/or soundtracks for a single song by one's favorite artist, Rarities solves the problem for Indigo Girls fans. Of the eighteen tracks, six tracks are from other compilation albums. For example, "I Don't Wanna Talk About It" was taken from "Music From The Motion Picture Philadelphia." Purchasing Rarities saves the Indigo Girls-phile from buying six discs for one Indigo Girls track each! Of the remaining twelve songs: two are covers, two are live versions of previously released tracks, two are remixes, one is an unused track, two come from hard-to-find e.p.s or albums, one is a demo, and two are unique to this recording.

And yet Rarities is a remarkably well-assembled album. The album has a wonderful sense of cohesion and a standard of track to track quality that is pretty wonderful. Moreover, the album does not surrendered to so many of the obvious conceits. The five live tracks include the obligatory crown noises at the beginning or end, but otherwise while listening to them, many sound more refined than the usual "live" recordings so many artists release.

Moreover, the cover songs chosen fit well within the range or abilities of the Indigo Girls. Hearing them sing "I Don't Wanna Talk About It," a song popularized by Rod Stewart, it is astonishing how naturally the song fits their voices and style. Of course, it's easy to take a song like that, which is generally slow and light pop to fit into a more folk-rock sensibility. The real surprise is how Indigo Girls righteously take on The Clash with the album opener "Clampdown." The Indigo Girls rock on the track and they take the ambitious song, which uses a lot more . . . well, sound than many of the songs produced by the Indigo Girls, and they make it sound effortless with the way they perform it.

Jump to the end, the Indigo Girls also take on the famous piece "Finlandia" by the composer Sibelius. I'm not sure I've ever heard "Finlandia" in English, but Saliers and Ray make it sound perfectly natural. And even their version of the classical song is presented in a way that fits perfectly with the sound and quality of the other tracks.

Even remixes, which I usually find dodgy, fare well on Rarities. "Shed Your Skin," another track from the album Shaming Of The Sun is remixed by Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. Morello takes a song that was generally more folk-pop and turns it into a straightforward rock song driven by Ray and Saliers' vocals and guitars far heavier than most Indigo Girls tracks.

So in many ways, Rarities is a series of departures from the bluegrass, folk, and light pop-rock that has defined much of the music of the Indigo Girls; "Clampdown" and the Tom Morello Remix of "Shed Your Skin" are much more rock than some fans might be ready for and "Finlandia" might be more gospel than some are comfortable with. How does the album work so well, then?

First, the demo version of "Ghost" provides something remarkably similar to a previously released version that listeners will quickly find something familiar in the album. Similarly, "Never Stop" (from the 1986 e.p. by the same name) and the cover of "I Don't Wanna Talk About It" appear early on the album to showcase the vocal talents of Saliers and Ray in ways that are familiar.

But more than anything, the album is dominated by works of the Indigo Girls that are simply harder to find than others. With ten of the tracks written (or co-written) by the Indigo Girls, it naturally sounds consistent with the lyrical and vocal standards one might expect from the folk-rock duet. Songs like "Let Me Go Easy" (presented live) are essentially Indigo Girls. Written by Amy Ray and presented by Ray and Saliers with their guitars (and that's all!), the song is exactly like what one expects from the group.

Moreover, some of the collaborators with the Indigo Girls are well-chosen. Ani DiFranco accompanies the Indigo Girls on "Ramblin' Round" and she synergizes well with the talents of the duet. Similarly, Michael Stipe's appearance on "I'll Give You My Skin" works in part because he harmonizes perfectly with Saliers and Ray. The Indigo Girls are true artists with a great ear for what works for them.

In short, the album smartly mixes the familiar with the different to create a rather satisfying mix of covers and music we've simply not heard before from the Indigo Girls. The result is a better-than-average outing from the Indigo Girls.

The best track is "Shed Your Skin (Tom Morello Mix)", the low point might be "Point Hope," solely because it left no impression with me.

For other albums by The Indigo Girls works, check out my reviews of:
Indigo Girls
Swamp Ophelia
1200 Curfews
Shaming Of The Sun
Come On Now Social


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

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