Getting Intense With Indigo Girls
May 30, 2016 6:34 PM   Subscribe

If you only know Indigo Girls from their few hits from decades ago, you might not be aware that they get pretty intense on every album. Let's look at their deeper tracks from each of the Girls and how they evolve across time, starting with the beginning of their label recording career in 1989, Indigo Girls and the tracks Blood And Fire [Amy] and Love's Recovery [Emily].

Their first album Strange Fire, privately released but subsequently re-released in 1989 on their label after the success of their major label debut, with track changes, features the deep cuts You Left It Up To Me [Amy] and Hey Jesus [Emily].

Their 1990 album Nomads Indians Saints had a lot of hits, but it's unlikely that songs like Keeper Of My Heart [Amy] or You And Me Of The 10,000 Wars [Emily] made the radar of anyone who didn't own the album.

The heavily literary-influenced fourth album Rites Of Passage (1992) contained Jonas And Ezekiel [Amy] and Virginia Woolf [Emily]. both continuing to be fan favorites to this day.

But it was with their fifth album in 1994, Swamp Ophelia, that the Girls began to truly dig deep when it came to their album tracks. Emily's Language Or The Kiss is a deep lament, and Amy's Touch Me Fall turns into something unexpected.

It's hard to pick two "deep cuts" off of Shaming Of The Sun (1997), IG's 6th album, but I think probably it's best to listen to Don't Give That Girl A Gun [Amy] and Leeds [Emily] if you want to see what they were going for on this particular album.

The truly epic Come On Now Social was released in 1999, and is IG's 7th studio album. It included brilliant deep cuts Trouble [Emily] and Sister [Amy].

2002's Become You, IG's eighth album, is great all the way through, but the standout deep tracks are Amy's confrontational Yield and Emily's reflection on the death of her sister, She's Saving Me.

While they may have fallen off the popular music radar, Indigo Girls continued to record, and in 2004, they released All That We Let In. The featured deep cuts off this are Tether [Amy] and Come On Home [Emily].

Despite Our Differences (2006) could have been a bit of a comeback album for Indigo Girls. It included the standout deep tracks, the heartbreaking Dirt And Dead Ends [Amy] and and the comforting Lay My Head Down [Emily].

2008 saw the release of Poseiden And The Bitter Bug which might be IG's most ambitious album in many years (released in both full band and acoustic duo versions at the same time, with different tracks and running orders for each). Across its span, it has some truly epic tracks. These include Fleet Of Hope [Emily] (which inspired at least one friend of mine to see them live) and Second Time Around [Amy].

Skipping over their holiday album, Beauty Queen Sister is Indigo Girls' 13th studio album. It didn't make much of a splash anywhere outside of their fandom, but it still has some pretty great tracks, including Feed And Water The Horses [Emily] and Share The Moon [Amy]

And bringing us up to the present, IG's most recent album, their 14th since the 80s, One Lost Day features the deep cuts Findlay, Ohio 1968 [Emily] and Texas Was Clean [Amy].

What will the deep cuts off their next albums be? Or what are the deep cuts I have left out of this post? Indigo Girls continue to be an astonishing musical force, and they never fail to create something that connects with their fans or even causal listeners.
posted by hippybear (45 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
I always liked "Land of Canaan," but I dunno if that qualifies as a deep cut.
posted by jonmc at 6:49 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

hippybear, I love that when someone says "Indigo Girls fan" the immediate word association is "lesbian," except that pretty much all awesome Indigo Girls posts on Metafilter are made by you, a gay dude.

That's all. Thank you.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:03 PM on May 30, 2016 [11 favorites]

Every time I get on an airplane I mentally sing "nearer my God to thee..."
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:03 PM on May 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was an Indigo Girls fan long before i realized I was gay, and much longer before they came out publicly. Quality music transcends all boundaries.
posted by hippybear at 7:12 PM on May 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

And for a related deep cut of Web 1.0 Internet humor, there's Your Roommate Plays the Indigo Girls by (MeFi's own) Lore Sjöberg.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:26 PM on May 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

And for a related deep cut of Web 1.0 Internet humor, there's Your Roommate Plays the Indigo Girls by (MeFi's own) Lore Sjöberg.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:26 PM on May 30 [+] [!]

I was Just. About. To. Post. This!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by tantrumthecat at 7:33 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I saw them last year under the redwood trees at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park, I was very impressed with Amy's song The Rise of the Black Messiah from One Lost Day. Behind the scenes studio video
posted by larrybob at 7:51 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I think of intense Indigo Girls I think of their cover of Romeo and Juliet from Rites of Passage. That long, yearning "Julieeeet" was the soundtrack of so much teen angst.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:07 PM on May 30, 2016 [13 favorites]

My mistake not to see them play the Club Zinc disco in Hull, Quebec, in 1988 - what was I thinking? But what do you call a deep cut? The only album I own is one of their live cassettes from the 90s, I've never seen them live, the only radio songs I can pick out are Closer to Fine and Galileo (which I'll forever associate with quiet Sunday mornings driving into Amherst Mass from Hampshire College), but I somehow knew the 10,000 Wars song. Great band.
posted by morspin at 8:12 PM on May 30, 2016

There's never enough "Chicken Man" morphing into who knows what. Every time I go to a IG concert and hear the opening I wonder what we're in for.
posted by Death and Gravity at 8:13 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I still remember IG doing a thing that morphed into Pink Floyds "Wish You Were Here" and I all the hair on my body stands on end even just typing this comment.
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

My dad, a straight guy in his 50s, mostly listens to classic rock: Zeppelin, Cream, the Who, CCR. If you look at his (extensive) music collection, it's mostly that stuff with a smattering of 80s and 90s college rock-- REM, Green Day.

And, for some reason, like five Indigo Girls albums. And a lot of Melissa Etheridge. I think he just likes their guitar playing? When I went to an Ani DiFranco show in high school I told him she was 'kind of like the Indigo Girls' and subsequently had to talk him out of coming to the show with me. I feel like someone must have told him at some point that they're lesbians but I'm honestly not sure.
posted by nonasuch at 8:37 PM on May 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

Why would you ever talk anyone out of going to any night of awesome music, ever?
posted by hippybear at 8:38 PM on May 30, 2016

Because I was 15 and bringing your dad to a concert was the Ultimate Shame.
posted by nonasuch at 8:41 PM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

#olds all over everywhere.
posted by hippybear at 8:43 PM on May 30, 2016

I mean, I feel bad about it now, especially since he recently found the concert photos he took when *he* was in high school and now I know he was definitely a cooler teenager than me.
posted by nonasuch at 8:47 PM on May 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I know I heard the Girls do something that morphed into "Wish you were here" and always believe it was "Chicken man" because I've heard them do enough odd things in the middle of that song.

One way or another, if you get a chance to do a real Indigo Girls concert (and not just a set in something else), go for it - they're an wonderfully talented couple of people who never bore you, and they almost always have fun opening bands. I must thank hippybear for turning me on to them.
posted by Death and Gravity at 8:53 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

<3 Death and Gravity. I have a recording of that show, I will try to get it to you at some point.
posted by hippybear at 8:55 PM on May 30, 2016

Ahhhhhh!! My favorites!!! Thank you hippybear! I always love seeing the Girls on the blue.... So amazing... And as a musician, their work just transcends almost anything of the last 30 years... At least for me. I have seen them live many times, it's almost a spiritual experience.... And I live close to the Emory area of Atlanta so I've run into Emily a few times and we've had a nice chat. Such a gracious woman. There is a fabulous documentary of the making of the latest album, One Fine Day, on YouTube.. It really digs into their process and is a must see for anyone interested in their music. And Emily and her Dad, who is a Methodist preacher and on staff at Emory, just led a panel at the latest Methodist national convention about the importance of the Methodist church changing their stand on gay marriage and inclusion. I read a wonderfully moving article about it. I'll try to find links when I get off the phone and back to my laptop but should be easy to google. Going to get back on the road and put on Southland in the Springtime and sing at the top of my lungs!!
posted by pearlybob at 9:20 PM on May 30, 2016

I love that early self-titled album so, so much. Every track. "Love's Recovery" is one of the most beautiful songs I know. I feel like you could have singled out "Center Stage" and "Prince of Darkness" as well.
posted by straight at 9:22 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Love's Recovery" is probably my all time favorite.... And I have to throw "Ghost" in here as a deep cut. Gives me chills!!
posted by pearlybob at 9:25 PM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Probably not too deep of a track, considering they still play it in concert over twenty years later, but "Ghost" off of Rites of Passage coincided with my first totally soul-rending crushes in early high school. The soundtrack of my fifteen-year-old angst was that song on constant repeat through long summer nights (alternated with their cover of "Romeo and Juliet", and then "Mystery" from Swamp Ophelia).

Years later, I can laugh at my teenage flair for the dramatic... but damned if "Ghost" doesn't still press on the scars in my heart from that era.
posted by Meghamora at 9:29 PM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

The phrase "strange fire" (and the allusion in the song) comes from this little story from Leviticus (Chapter 10):
And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not.

And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.

Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
posted by straight at 9:42 PM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was just thinking yesterday about my all time favorite deepcut of theirs, the hidden track on Come on Now Social, Philosophy of Loss, an absolutely chill inducing Emily song about (among other things) excluding gays from the church and just in general what that says about us as a species.

And of course there is the song I recommend in every single AskMe question about inspiration music, the song that got me through grad school, also off of Come on Now Social, Amy's Go.

I've never seen them in concert because by the time I was able to go, their shows had gotten too pricey. I did get to see Amy perform at the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points a few years ago and that was like 16 year old me's dream come true.

I've drifted away from the Girls in recent years, in spite of moving into a house a block from Emily's a few years ago. Poseidon and the Bitter Bug and Beauty Queen Sister just didn't grab me. But everything from Strange Fire to Despite Our Differences is (as Emily would say) burned into my soul.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:54 AM on May 31, 2016

I have unabashedly loved the Indigo Girls since I first heard them and I'm pretty generically straight/white/male/cis/middle-aged.

And now I realize that my library has some gaps and I get to discover some new music.

Stellar post!
posted by djeo at 5:19 AM on May 31, 2016

Thanks so much! I was a big fan years ago when they first came out, then lost touch with a lot of music. I recently saw them on the Joan Baez 75th birthday special and remembered how wonderful the Indigo Girls are.
posted by mermayd at 5:37 AM on May 31, 2016

And, for some reason, like five Indigo Girls albums. And a lot of Melissa Etheridge. I think he just likes their guitar playing?

There was a good stretch of the '90s when any new rock and roll* on the radio was Melissa Etheridge or Tom Petty, with the occasional minor blip of IG.

* -- "Rock and roll" that would fit in to the Boomers' view of it, that is.
posted by Etrigan at 6:34 AM on May 31, 2016

In 1989 (holy shit) I was in 2nd year university, driving back and forth from London to Toronto most weekends to visit my girlfriend (now wife.) We wore out that first major label album of theirs and the tape I made of it to play in the car. We saw them open for REM at Maple Leaf Gardens on the Green tour, Michael coming on stage in mechanic's overalls to sing his part on "Kid Fears". I remember we had a nasty fight in the car in her driveway when I came to pick her up to go to the show and we almost didn't go, but we'd had these tickets for we went anyway and then everything was just sort of better after.

Then we saw them play their own small show really soon after; it was at the Rivoli, which is a small club on Queen Street here in Toronto. It was a fantastic show, and we hung around after and talked to them, and of course they were totally cool and friendly and nice. School had just finished so we had this drunk idea that maybe we would follow them around for a few gigs, where were they going next? This kind of information wasn't instantly accessible in those days and Amy herself didn't know the particulars of their itinerary. So she goes, "give me your phone number and I'll call you later once I find out." I ripped the back off my pack of Vantage cigarettes and she wrote the phone number on it and put it in her pocket. A few days later we still hadn't heard from her and were crushed when we realized that the answering machine had been off the whole time. Who knows if she ever called.

They sort of gradually drifted off my radar and I feel like they're maybe too much of a time for me to listen to them again...(I was that guy playing "Closer To Fine" on acoustic guitar at friends' parties) but maybe that's unfair. I had put The Stone Roses in that same category but I recently dug out their first album and put it on my phone and holy shit it's still awesome.
Thanks for this post, it will help me rediscover them.
posted by chococat at 8:24 AM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another straight guy chiming in with love for the Indigo Girls. I have seen them probably six times in concert, and they are always excellent. Nice selection of deep tracks, hippybear - some of my favorites!

I'll put in a plug for their participation in the 1994 "resurrection" of Jesus Christ Superstar by a bunch of Atlanta-area musicians. Amy plays Jesus and Emily plays Mary Magdalene. Overall, it's a bit uneven, but most of it is pretty spectacular if you're a fan of 90s indie rock and 70s musical theater.

There's also a YouTube playlist of the whole thing being performed live in Austin in 1995.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:40 AM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

They do transcend boundaries of all kinds. I was in Palo Alto at the turn of the 90s and I was a closeted gay guy. My best friends then were three straight women, two of whom had a musical palette that included Jackson Browne, Holly Near, Ferron, Phranc, Jane Siberry, and Joan Baez, and the third of whom was a fairly conservative Christian who listened mostly to Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. All three of them (and me -- and I had very different musical tastes from all three of them) agreed on Indigo Girls and turned me on to them. I still think their best song is Walk Away, from the very first indie album.
posted by blucevalo at 10:10 AM on May 31, 2016

...and the third of whom was a fairly conservative Christian who listened mostly to Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.

When I discovered the Indigo Girls in high school (1990 or so), there were plenty in the local CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) who thought they were a Christian act because of songs like Secure Yourself and Prince of Darkness. I can only imagine what they thought when they discovered they were lesbians.

On that point, I remember that they were pretty quiet about their sexuality for a while, and then Amy included the line "Beautiful women walk right by / you know I never know what to say" in Shame on You. I remember seeing them live during that tour, and the audience would JOYOUSLY FLIP THE FUCK OUT at that line. Makes me smile to remember it.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:23 AM on May 31, 2016

Thank you for the trip down memory lane, hippybear. I had every single song on every single IG album memorized until Shaming of the Sun (at which point either the albums became less excellent or my tastes changed, not sure which).
Their cover of Romeo and Juliet was just ... gut-wrenching. I always liked the Dire Straits original, but it never pulled me by the collar and forced me to LISTEN the way the IG version did. You just knew Amy was laying her soul and pain bare for the world to see (hear).

Their lyrics are almost always great, and sometimes sublime. Ghost is still the song I turn to when I want to sing a complete song out loud, beginning to end. Quotes from The Wood Song from Swamp Ophelia come to mind, unbidden, at random points in my life.

"But the wood is tired, and the wood is old
And we'll make it fine, if the weather holds
But if the weather holds, we'll have missed the point
And that's where I need to go"

When I finally truly understood/felt/experienced why it would be 'missing the point', I felt like I had entered a new, adult stage of love. IG helped me put words to that emotion. Come to think of it, IG lyrics come to mind all the time to put words to emotions.

"Pressed up against love's glass
Eyeing the shiny toy I'd been hoping for
The one I never can afford"

"Laughter like a language I once spoke with ease"

"So what is love then
Is it dictated or chosen
Does it sing like the hymns of 1000 years
Or is it just pop emotion
And if it ever was here and it left
Does it mean it was never true?"

I could go on and on. These albums represent high school and college for me, and truly were the soundtrack of that life. Thank you again for the nostalgia!
posted by widdershins at 10:31 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you quit listening to IG around SOTS, you should revisit their catalog. CONS is a straight up rocker of an album with their most confrontational political material to date. BY and ATWLI are both solid pieces of work. I wasn't a huge fan of BQS, but PATBB has material on it that, on first listen is boring, but by the third listen is deeply wonderful.
posted by hippybear at 11:05 AM on May 31, 2016

OK, I'll give CONS a try - had heard good things about it. I didn't like PATBB very much, or at least not the songs I heard. I wonder if it's a case of the music being right for the time and the place, though - I have deep nostalgia for the IG songs I used to love (and still do), but don't feel the need to re-listen very often.
posted by widdershins at 11:10 AM on May 31, 2016

I saw them a long, long time ago and something interesting came to me about mid-concert.

In the songs from their first album or two, it's very clear which songs are Amy-songs and which are Emily's. They're very different. But later in their career, you can almost hear them... learning from each other, and each of their own work moves closer toward the sound and lyrical sense of the other*.

Just a weird nugget some of you may or may not pick up on and/or agree with as you're getting your Eighties folkie throwback listen on.

* closer to fine, even.†
† I'm very sorry.
posted by rokusan at 11:20 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Zeppelin, Cream, the Who, CCR... REM, Green Day. And, for some reason... Indigo Girls ... Melissa Etheridge... Ani DiFranco.

Your father like jangly, "talking" guitars, especially finger-squeak. All of those artists and their producers sometimes (always?) leave the squeak in their guitar recordings for charm or whatnot. I once heard Peter Buck (REM) talk about how they left those 'mistakes' in because he liked the sound.

I like it, too, so I notice it.
posted by rokusan at 11:25 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Amy has always tended toward a much more punk attitude, while Emily draws from literary sources. They both have a lot to offer and a lot to say, but they are very different critters when it comes to the songs they write. This continues across their catalog. They've only ever co-written one song, Blood Quantum, that they regard to be a giant failure. Enough of a failure that I can't even find it online to link.
posted by hippybear at 11:25 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've seen IG many times, but my favorite was in the late 90s. I was in college, working at the college radio station, dating the Music Director. We got tickets to see them at CMSU (which is not the college we attended). So we drove across the state, but we quickly made some laminates that had our pictures and our college radio station info on them, and we wore them around our necks. We went to the venue (a gymnasium) a few hrs before the show and walked right in past security. We walked backstage where Amy, Emily and the band were just hanging out, eating some food, etc. We introduced ourselves and they were incredibly awesome. They gave us food and guitar picks, they talked to us, and were generally nice and laid back. They let us stand on the side of the stage during the show (we never even saw our seats). I remember watching Romeo and Juliet and Leeds and thinking a lot of the same thoughts in this thread. They're hard working, intelligent, wise, incredibly talented, and just all around good people. Thanks for the the post!
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:26 PM on May 31, 2016

PS: Amy Ray's solo stuff is pretty intense in places too. Some of my favorites: Johnny Rottentail, Driver Education.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:29 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

@nonasuch - Apparently I am your Dad. I like Dar Williams too.
posted by MOWOG at 4:42 PM on May 31, 2016

Shaming of the Sun was a favorite car sing-along when my kids (born in 1989 and 1992) were little, especially "Shame on You", for this line:
My friend Tanner she says you know me and Jesus we're of the same heart
The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep fuckin up
Oh, man—the chance to say "fucking up" can just make the day for people of a certain age.

When they got a little older, they favored this verse, which made me proud:
Let's go road block trippin in the middle of the night up in Gainesville town
There'll be blue lights flashin down the long dirt road when they ask me to step out
They say we be looking for illegal immigrants - can we check your car?
I say you know it's funny I think we were on the same boat back in 1694
I said oo la la shame on you

A few years ago we learned that Chicano City Park is a real place in San Diego (my birthplace, although my folks left when I was a baby). I hope we can all visit there, together, some day before I leave this vale of tears.
posted by she's not there at 6:57 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

hard working

I remember they used to distribute these like calendar-flyers at shows in the 80's, a couple of years before they got signed, and they were working about 25 nights a month.
posted by thelonius at 7:06 PM on May 31, 2016

I had a very tumultuous relationship with my mother until I was in my early 20s, and I did a decently WASPy job of just cramming all the pain of rejection and loneliness deep down so that my friends wouldn't know I was so innately unlovable that even my own mother couldn't bring herself to like me.

I had been trying to resign myself to having the kind of "I love her but we're not close" interactions, hoping to shed the appended ("because she doesn't really love me") suspicion I carried around from elementary school through some of college.

Hokey as it sounds, the song "You and Me of the 10,000 Wars" offered a sort of scaffolding to deal with the pain and, oddly enough, it helped me turn a corner, connect with my mother and begin building a real relationship. I'm not saying that song saved my life but it did lay down the first paver in a road to a much more peaceful place.

Great post -- thank you.
posted by sobell at 8:56 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

sobell, if you like singer-songwriters with guitars dealing with mother-daughter issues, I recommend the oeuvre of Jonatha Brooke - specifically "Blood from a Stone" and "Secrets and Lies".
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:47 AM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

They say we be looking for illegal immigrants - can we check your car?
I say you know it's funny I think we were on the same boat back in 1694
I said oo la la shame on you

Almost 20 years later...and still relevant. More than it was upon its release.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:30 PM on June 10, 2016

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