Ever since 1994's Swamp Ophelia, the Indigo Girls, the pride of Atlanta, Ga., have been on some kind of musical journey. That point marks their departure from being an acoustic guitar duo known for memorable tunes and seamless harmonies. It's been a somewhat trying stretch for fans of their early years, known for songs like "Closer to Fine," "Hammer and a Nail," "Galileo" and "Least Complicated."
Their last two studio albums (Shaming of the Sun and Come On Now Social) have been notable for some great songs, but were a little frustrating for all their experimentation and politics. Don't get me wrong -- I love a song that features the hurdy gurdy as much as the next guy, and you've gotta love Amy Ray's heart and passion for justice. But it was all just a little much at times.
The good news is that all those meanderings have allowed the Indigo Girls' return to their roots to be all the better. If the journey leads to something like this, how can you argue with it? On Become You, all that experimentation pays off, with the use of accordion, organ, saxophone and even the penny whistle to perfect effect. In the old days, it was just two girls and their guitars, but they have branched out, and their tight touring band is featured on most of the CD. Ray sounds less pissed off and weaves a heartfelt kind of a protest song into a great melody in "Become You," which challenges the South to look into its own dark heart like no song since Neil Young's "Alabama." ("Our Southern blood, my heresy, damn that ol' confederacy," she sings.) Plus, it's a heck of a lot more fun to sing along with.
In fact, I always used to be more of an Emily Saliers fan (the two split songwriting duties, with an equal number of compositions here), but I think Ray's songwriting is a bit stronger this time out, especially in the lyrics. That's not to say Saliers is losing it -- "Our Deliverance" is easily among her best yet, and her voice is sweeter than ever.
By reuniting with producer Peter Collins, who worked with them on the classic CDs Rites of Passage and Swamp Ophelia, the Indigo Girls were able to refocus here. I won't say Become You is better than those two CDs, but it is back in that league. And anything that good is a rare thing indeed.