Indigo Girls redefine perfection with live symphony album

Indigo_Girls_351-Retouched_HIGHRES_2 by Jeremy Cowart
Emily Saliers and Amy Ray
Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Indigo Girls have a live album coming out at the end of the month! Hold that thought for a quick second.

Truth be told, I’m experiencing a significant Indigo Girls high at the moment having recently seem them at the incredible Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, ME and the lovely Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH. The first show was Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as a duo and the second one featured the phenomenal violinist Lyris Hung (who also produced Salier’s debut solo album “Murmuration Nation”) and had the sensational opening act of Michelle Malone.

If I stopped and thought about it, or better yet dumped out my giant ticket stub jar, I’m certain I could report that I’ve seen Indigo Girls live likely more than most other acts I’m a fan of. Since seeing them open for R.E.M. on the “Green” tour I’ve been all about them. Oh and hell yes, Michael Stipe came out onto the stage and sang “Kid Fears” with them. Indigo Girls were one of the first acts I ever interviewed. I was a nervous wreck  as they were both on the phone and I’m pretty sure I have the cassette of that phoner recorded when the “Nomads” album came out in a box somewhere.

Lyrics. Harmonies. Vocals. Musicality. Passion. Indigo Girls have so much of this going on and with each new album favorite songs are established. And as for the live experiences-from huge venues to tiny ones- I have never walked out of a show feeling anything less than joyful.

And hey, super quick, lest there be any doubt, Indigo Girls are STILL MAKING GREAT STUDIO ALBUMS. If you don’t have a copy of 2015’s “One Lost Day” march yourself to your favorite independent record store or hop online and get it. Two reasons are this and this.

Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. The new album is coming out on June 29. And not just any album. It’s a LIVE album recorded with the University Of Colorado Symphony Orchestra and I’ve had at least 22 (one for each track) heart attacks while listening to the entire thing through at least a dozen times over the past two weeks.

Here’s what I can tell you about it: 

The album was recorded in front of a sold-out audience last year in Boulder, Colorado and was mixed by Grammy winner Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Nancy Griffith.) I was surprised to learn that Indigo Girls, have played more than 50 shows with symphonies across the US and am thrilled that a recording of one of these shows is being shared with the world.

Album cover art courtesy of Rounder Records
Album cover art courtesy of Rounder Records

And here are five specific reasons why I’m losing my mind over this album and why , if you’re even a casual Indigo Girls fan, you should hop online and pre-order it. They’ve got some REALLY cool bundles available including signed vinyl, Kleen Kanteens and the winter cap  and socks you didn’t know you needed until right this moment among other cool stuff.

ONE:  “Fugitive.” I started crying for real when I heard this version version of the Amy-penned tune on this record. It’s one of absolute favorite Indigo Girls songs and when the horns started followed by a crash of symbols and a whole bunch of strings it was almost too much for my fragile heart to handle. I’m listening to it now as I write this and it’s huge. It’s tremendous.  It’s overwhelming. If music was a shaft of light racing down from heaven in the form of a lightning bolt it would sound like  this symphony of version of “Fugitive.”  “I’m harboring a fugitive, a defector of a kind/She lives in my soul drinks of my wine/And I’d give my last breath to keep us alive.”

I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Hey University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra, BRAVO!!!

TWO: “Mystery,” written by Emily,  is another favorite IG song. The studio version, which like “Fugitive” is on the 1994 album “Swamp Ophelia” features backing vocals from Jane Siberry  and it STILL kills me all these years later. I mean my god, these words: “Oh you set up your place in my thoughts/Moved in and made my thinking crowded/Now we’re out in the back with the barking dogs/My heart the red sun your heart the moon clouded.” I’m hearing a flute and the horns sound like a sunrise. Cellos and violins and whatever other strings I’m hearing are rising and falling like waves. It’s striking hearing Emily and Amy’s vocals and guitars against a backdrop of what has to be a 50 member symphony.

Photo by Evan Carter
Photo by Evan Carter

THREE: “Sugar Tongue,” written by Amy is from the 2009 album “Poseidon and the Bitter Bug.” Amy’s vocals are at their zenith of range, power and emotion. The energy builds upon itself with the symphony making its presence known in a gentle way for about the first 45 seconds and then, boom, it’s like the song was struck by a a bolt of lightning. With each listen I pick up on more subtleties and try in vain to identify the instruments. “Bring me lullabies

FOUR: “Ghost,” written by Emily is from 1992’s “Rites of Passage” and the song has been splitting hearts wide open -including mine – since the day it was released.  “And you kiss me like a lover/Then you sting me like a viper/I go follow to the river/Play your memory like a piper.” Now imagine this song tricked out with a symphony behind it and it becomes a cinematic ride propelled by Emily and Amy’s soaring voices with a wall of sound behind it that only a symphony orchestra could provide.

FIVE: “Go” written by Amy is from the 1999 album “Come On Now Social” and holy hell when the refrain of “Raise your hands/raise your hands high” comes around I want to not only raise them but somehow hurl myself into outer space. There’s what I’m calling a “horn break” in this symphony version and I hear a tuba (or maybe a few of them) and a bunch of other brass throwing notes like punches and the song reaches a fever pitch that is goddamn larger than life. Are you feeling me right now because I can’t handle how good this song is and when you hear it I hope you’re as blown away as I am by it because for the love of all that is holy in this world, it’s tremendous. Seriously, I’m hanging on for dear life with “Go” in my ears right now. I’m smitten with this version. Oh and hey there, Emily, FANTASTIC electric guitar.

So those are my five current favorites. The other thing about this symphony album is the set list. The deep album cuts like “Damo,” “Yoke,” “Compromise,” “War Rugs” and ‘Come on Home” all get a new lease on life in this format and I imagine some fans will be nudged to revisit some of the IG more recent albums that are home to these tunes.

Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the symphony version of “Closer to Fine” that closes out the album. Complete with xylophone and the strings singing right along with the “I went to the doctor/I went to mountains/I looked to the children/I drank from the fountains.”

Oh and by the way…here’s “Galileo” from the symphony album.

I can’t wait for this album to drop because I hope you all experience some semblance of the musical and emotional fulfillment that I’ve been feeling these past couple of weeks.

Are you on fire from the years? (yep, “Kid Fears” is on it too). I can tell you that my heart and soul are on fire because of this album.

Indigo Girls Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Out 6/29/18 on Rounder Records.

Ponti out.

4 thoughts on “Indigo Girls redefine perfection with live symphony album

  1. So, basically finding five minutes to stop and read or do anything remotely personal when you have two tiny people to keep alive is a challenge. But if I only had five minutes in the next year to do something, I’m glad I just spent it reading this post. Just reading your description of the album made me hear the music in my mind and I love that. Also, I just watched the clip of Galileo with Wallace, my two-year-old and even he stopped and was mesmerized. Thank you for bringing this amazing musical interlude into my early morning. Who knows, I may even go online and pre-order the vinyl signed copy as a present for myself for when I someday have an adult living room with a record player.

    Liked by 2 people

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