Beauty Queen Sister
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
With a career that spans more than 30 years, includes one Grammy award and several nominations, as well as several studio recordings that have achieved platinum, double platinum or gold record sales status, The Indigo Girls can certainly be considered amongst the most renowned folk rock duos, along side the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers and Hall & Oates. Beauty Queen Sister, their 14th studio recording, hearkens back to 1992’s Rites of Passage and 1994’s Swamp Ophelia, both produced by Peter Collins, who returns behind the console for this disc, adding his rootsy, organic approach to the results.
Throughout their career, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have long held a staunch dedication to a number of social and political causes, including lesbian community activism, Native American rights, environmental issues and anti-death penalty causes. On Beauty Queen Sister however, they dial back the socio-political activism in favor of return to their more intimate storytelling style, evoking the simplicity of days gone by and a hint of modern world worries. Collins brings a stellar array of Nashville’s finest session musicians to round out the full band sound.
The 13 songs on Beauty Queen Sister hold together really well, a mark of well-rounded songwriters. This collection has its share of love songs that tug at the heart stings. Opener “Share The Moon” for instance, is a soft and mellow folk ballad with gentle percussion and subtle fiddle harmonies, which reflects on the dedication of making a relationship work even when partners are separated. The tempo picks up on the lovely, hip-swaying melody “We Get To Feel It All,” the fiddle this time more upbeat and reflective of the song’s mood of a loving couple reminiscing on their lives together.The somber and sentimental “Birthday Song” suggests the greatest passion one loving partner could offer another is simply to be themselves.
At the mid way point, the lively “Gone” stands out amongst the finest songs in their catalog; beautiful piano and eloquent mandolin are rounded out with a steady, thumping rhythm, and the ladies sing together in a high register, forceful but not loud or overpowering. And “Making Promises” is an upbeat, energetic foot shuffler that finds the duo in near perfect harmony on a rousing chorus. “John” is a mellower number that reflects on the neighborly, friendly spirit of country folk, and “Feed and Water The Horses,” with melodic piano and lovely strings, is a heartfelt spiritual with an emotional chorus.
Ray’s punk rock ethos makes its mark on the emotionally driven title track, a character infused tale of youthful, reckless abandon that wouldn’t be out of place on a Springsteen tome. “Damo” is a Celtic inspired revolution song, infused with a marching beat of the bodhran and whistles and flutes and an emotionally cathartic descant sung by Irish singer songwriter Damien Dempsey.
So many bands, musicians and songwriters who came of age in the ’80s have fallen by the way side and are no longer in the public eye. But not The Indigo Girls; with more than 30 years writing and performing together, the duo knows what works well. Combining their soft and sensual harmonies and energetic, pop song craft into a set of lovely songs, Beauty Queen Sister confirms The Indigo Girls are still making invigorating and emotional music, have plenty left to say and show no signs of slowing down or easing into nostalgia.