Kicking it up a notch

The Indigo Girls come out strong on their new label with the CD `Despite Our Differences'

October 05, 2006|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

In a way, it was a new start.

About two years ago, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, better known as the pop-folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, left Sony, the major label that released all 11 of their albums over the past 20 years. In September, the group put out its debut for Hollywood Records: Despite Our Differences, a charged and refreshing 13-cut set.

"I think the label change helped in a myriad of ways," says Ray, the available half of the Indigo Girls. She and Saliers will perform at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Monday night. "It's always good to have a new start. It gives you a little more energy because you're working with a whole new team of people."

Perhaps the most important person on that team was producer Mitchell Froom, who has overseen best-selling albums by Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney.

"We wanted to work with him in the past," says Ray, who's calling from a tour stop in Knoxville, Tenn. "He is responsible for the record having a certain energy and intimacy. We really look up to him. We had been fans of his for a long time."

While the Girls' honeyed harmonies, incisive lyrics and smart musicianship are intact, Froom brings an amiable pop finish to the production. Nothing is overdone. The guitars, keyboards and bass are smoothly blended, anchored by fine, propulsive drumming by Matt Chamberlain. The grooves (check "Little Perennials" and "I Believe in Love") are especially strong this time around.

"We took it one step at a time and recorded everything live," Ray says. "We were in a place where we were excited because we deconstructed the music and put it back together. Mitchell has a way of stripping things down. But the music isn't missing anything."

Despite Our Differences is one of the tightest sets of songs the Atlanta twosome has done. It's definitely in the company with their more celebrated albums, namely 1989's Indigo Girls and 1992's Rites of Passage. However, the tone of the new CD isn't as overtly political as previous releases. The lyrics focus more on interpersonal politics and philosophical takes on life and love without coming off as forced or ham-fisted.

"I look at the songwriting," says Ray, the more punk-influenced half. "It has gotten better over time. The images are more succinct, the melodies better."

Over the years, she and Saliers, whose musical approach was largely shaped by traditional folk music, have been able to beautifully mesh their different style sensibilities. And that's reflected in the title of the new album.

"There is a thread of similarities and respect for each other's music," Ray says. "Sometimes we need to work with somebody else to bridge that, to get a continuity between us."

And when that happens, the results, as showcased on Despite Our Differences, are electric, sometimes poetic.

"It's cool that that can happen, that we can be so different yet make this music together," Ray says. "It can be a model for the world."

See the Indigo Girls at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., 8 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $40 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or going to ticketmaster.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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