By: Bill Clifford
The Atlanta-based duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have been writing, recording and performing music together as the Indigo Girls for more than twenty years. Their debut recording, 1987's Strange Fire, was independently released and then later re-released via Columbia Records. With their eleventh studio recording, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, they've come full circle, releasing the CD on their own independent imprint label, IG Records, distributed via Vanguard Records.
The new CD finds the duo working again with veteran producer Mitchell Froom (Neil Finn, Richard Thompson, Suzanne Vega). It's a double CD, with one disc being a full band recording of ten songs while the second offers barebones, acoustic versions of the same songs plus one that didn't make the full band disc, harkening back to the acoustic folk of Strange Fire.
The songs are placed in a different order on each disc, and initially, the full band recording resonates a little more and warrants repeat listens. For instance, the full band version of "Digging For Your Dreams" is haunting and ethereal, fleshed out with a slow but cadent rhythm, lush organ swells and pitch perfect, digitally touched up vocals. The acoustic version focuses the attention on the sparse guitars, lovely, lilting harmonies and harsh, heart wrenching lyrics like, "I went looking for the answers from someone I heard believes that life gets easier/ You learn how to breathe or you learn how to grieve the past."
Elsewhere, that same sparse instrumentation bares a strong resemblance to Strange Fire. On the upbeat, hooky "Love Of Our Lives" one can imagine oneself on a backyard porch with a small crowd, singing along at the top of their lungs with Ray and Saliers strumming their guitars.
The Indigo Girls remain committed to social, political and environmental issues in their songwriting. On "Salty South," the bonus acoustic track, they sing about Native American folklore and the glorious sunsets of early America compared to those we see today in picture frames with no sense of time. Sweet banjo adds a dulcet tone to the duo's lilting harmonies.
The additional instrumentation and polished production on the full band recording serves "Second Time Around" well, with Ray's mandolin mixing sweetly with banjo. On the full band CD rockers such as "What Are You Like" and "Ghost Of The Gang" are rousing and upbeat with electric guitar and steady drums and bass, while on the acoustic versions one doesn't necessarily miss the rock instrumentation.
The collective experiences between these two singer-songwriters, including Ray's solo punk excursions, have established the Indigo Girls as career artists. Their independence from the corporate music world reinforces their integrity, though it was never in doubt. Whether listening to the full band recordings or the acoustic versions, Poseidon And The Bitter Bug affirms their status as musical icons who continue to live up to the high standards they've set for themselves for more than two decades.
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