On their fourteenth studio album, Grammy-winning folk-rock duo Indigo Girls deliver a beautifully crafted batch of songs that revel in spirited simplicity. Alternating richly textured storytelling with moody ruminations on modern-world worries, Beauty Queen Sister (due out October 4, 2011 on IG Recordings/Vanguard Records) reveals a fierce longing for a more idyllic existence while still celebrating the extraordinary in everyday living. Thanks to its graceful mix of openhearted songwriting and lush, intricate arrangements—not to mention powerful performances by the band and their brigade of guest musicians—Beauty Queen Sister ultimately allows the listener to slip into the sort of dreamy serenity that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers sing of striving for throughout the record.
Beauty Queen Sister is the fourth Indigo Girls album released on IG Recordings, (distributed by Vanguard Records) the independent label that Ray and Saliers launched after putting out nine albums on Epic Records and one (2006’s widely acclaimed Despite Our Differences) on Hollywood Records. While the loss of major-label spending power might cripple less accomplished artists, both Ray and Saliers find that their tightened budget actually feeds the album-making process. “Nowadays we need to record much more quickly, so there’s no time to belabor every little decision like we did in our earlier years,” says Ray. “We just put our heads down and throw all our emotion into it and it’s magical—the heart rules our performance more than the head.”
That heart-over-head approach is no doubt suited to the material on Beauty Queen Sister, a stunning 13-song selection that touches on topics as disparate as the 2011 Egyptian revolution (in Ray’s plaintive “War Rugs,” featuring guest vocals by singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche), the ins and outs of the music industry (“Making Promises,” a defiant, guitar-driven banger also authored by Ray), and the recent massive deaths of Arkansas red-winged blackbirds (“Able to Sing,” in which Saliers cleverly swipes a lyric from the English nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence” to lend the track a slightly whimsical feel). Tackling such weighty matters as tenderly as each intimate love song, Beauty Queen Sister grips from the get-go and crests at the epic “Yoke.” With its centerpiece of hauntingly urgent strings (supplied by violinist Luke Bulla) and a gorgeously mournful vocal performance by Ray, this spellbinding slow-burner makes for a masterful closing track.
As for the love songs, Beauty Queen Sister never shies away from lavish expressions of sweet infatuation. On “We Get To Feel It All,” for instance, Saliers deftly captures what she calls “our tendency to dramatize the bigness of love.” Featuring honey-tinged backup vocals by the Shadowboxers (an Atlanta-based all-male trio), the breezy midtempo treasure is packed with lovelorn poetry (“You’re open like a book or shut like shell/But if I hold you to my ear I can hear the whole world”). Another Saliers homage to the sublimity of love, “Birthday Song” begins with soulfully hummed harmonies and expands into a humble meditation elegantly accented by Carol Issacs’s delicate piano. And on the album’s opener, Ray offers an … Read More