Saturday, February 23, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 489: Indigo Girls

Last night was a fun time at an art opening hosted by our friends Justin and Vero.  I met a lot of very cool people, and got reacquainted with some others I hadn't seen in a while.  All in all a great time, and now after a good sleep in I’m sitting safely inside on a windy Saturday talking about one of my favourite things – music.

Disc 489 is… Shaming of the Sun
Artist: Indigo Girls

Year of Release:  1997

What’s up with the Cover?  Ah, folk artists – you continue to underwhelm me with your album covers.  Here we have a couple of old dolls in a broken piece of wall which I believe are supposed to vaguely resemble Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.  The brunette “Amy Ray” doll stares creepily into middle distance while blonde “Emily Saliers” doll looks like is has been hanged.  The crime, no doubt, was this album cover.

How I Came To Know It:  This was just me digging through their collection, after having been hooked on their sound early in university on albums like “Strange Fire” (reviewed way back at Disc 50) and their self-titled effort, (reviewed at Disc 412).  I wasn’t terribly impressed with “Swamp Ophelia” three years earlier and this was my last chance to get re-energized with their sound.  “Shaming of the Sun” was better, but not enough that I kept going.  Maybe one day I’ll return, but not today.

How It Stacks Up:  The Indigo Girls have thirteen studio albums, but I only have six of them.  Of the six, “Shaming of the Sun” is not my favourite.  I’ll put it 5th.

Rating:  3 stars

This album is a reminder that long after an artist falls from the larger public consciousness they can still keep making quality music.  Of course the Indigo Girls were never really in the larger public consciousness; another example of why being popular is largely overrated.

“Shaming of the Sun” is tastefully restrained at twelve tracks and only fifty minutes of music.  A lot of artists in recent years have used the opportunity afforded by the larger storage available on CDs to make bloated records.

“Shaming of the Sun” is not bloated, but it is still uneven and not at the same level as the Girls’ first four records.  I found some of the tracks dragged, and had me glancing at the MP3 player to see if it was going to be over soon.  “Caramia,” “Don’t Give That Girl a Gun” and “Everything In Its Own Time” all had this effect on me, and none of them is a particularly long song.   It is almost like in their experimenting to find more unique melodies and production additions the album sometimes loses sight of making sure the music is listenable.

However, when you have the wherewithal to stick to twelve tracks, a few forgettable ones are much easier to bear – see how that works?  It also helps that the album has a lot of very strong songs.

Get Out the Map” and “It’s Alright” are bright spots, and both are Indigo Girls standards.  These are songs that dole out lessons in a lighthearted non-judgmental way even as they remind you that everything isn’t going to be perfect in life.  We’re all going to lose friends, and we’re all going to encounter prejudice, or have it hurt someone close to us.  Just take a deep breath, relax, and take it as it comes.  These are songs that are about attitude, and how that attitude can sometimes give you all the direction you need.  As they sing in “Get Out the Map”:

“Get out the map, get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down
We’ll leave the figuring to those we pass on our way out of town.
Don’t drink the water, there seems to be something ailing everyone
I’m gonna clear my head, I’m gonna drink that sun
I’m gonna love you good and strong while our love is good and young.”

Sounds like a reasonable set of directions to me – and a helpful public service announcement about the water to boot!  Fortunately, I’m a man who isn’t afraid to ask for direction once in a while.  We do exist.

The album also has some interesting musical experiments.  “Shed Your Skin” begins with a turntable scratch that had me thinking of Public Enemy.  It shouldn’t have worked, but strangely it did.

The album wraps up on a high note, with “Hey Kind Friend,” a song about being physically separated from the people we care about, but how they still positively influence us and give us comfort just by memory.  It features some gorgeous guitar picking and a relaxed feel that at 5:46 in length, actually left me wanting more, not less.  Also, the song features my home town of Victoria!

“Hey kind friend don’t know when I’ll see you again
On a ferry boat bound for Victoria laying down to hide from the wind.”

Welcome to Victoria, Emily and Amy!  Sorry to hear you’re missing your friend, but our town is lovely and clean with lots to do given our humble size.  I recommend you check out the Bug Zoo, but skip Miniature World – even I build better dioramas than that.

Anyway, this is a good but not great record.  The musicianship is strong, and the girls still sing beautifully.  There are a number of good tracks and one or two that make you self-examine in a healthy way.  If they sound preachy in places or drone a bit, it doesn’t happen too often.  Besides, after all the great music they’ve given me, I think they’ve earned the right to try a few new musical tricks, and maybe even give me a piece of their mind.

Best tracks:  Get Out the Map, Shed Your skin, It’s All Right, Scooter Boys, Hey Kind Friend.

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