If the butterfly effect hadn’t already made it perfectly clear that everyone in the world is connected, the coronavirus pandemic certainly has. Geography and circumstances vary wildly, to be sure, but none of us lives in a bubble, and it is foolish, if not dangerous, to act as if we do. To be a good citizen of the world, it’s important to view life through a wide-angle lens in order to see the intertwinings of our existence across both time and space.
Look Long, the new Indigo Girls album, does just what its title suggests: It unflinchingly surveys the past to step whole-heartedly into the present. And it does so on both the micro and macro levels of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers’ lives as artists, activists, parents, and people simply doing the best they can in each moment, learning as they go.
To that end, fans familiar with the IG canon will quickly connect various dots to previous records. The funk-folk of “Shit Kickin’” opens the set with a clavinet-infused clarion call and Lucie Jules background vocals that, combined, bring the free-wheeling feel of Shaming of the Sun immediately to mind as it ticks through the tale of a tomboy’s life in the ’70s South.
Taking its turn, the shimmering title track summons the languidly lilting vibe we previously heard on Come On Now Social as it examines the shifting sands of patriotism while taking a gentle jab at current American powers with lines like “God bless our brave little hearts and our inherent limitations, and our short-sighted plans and our collusion.” A couple more notches in, the sweetly nostalgic “When We Were Writers” features harmony parts that feel akin to those on Rites of Passage and Swamp Ophelia. When it’s all said and done, this thing comes awfully close to winking at every Indigo era.
Because the Indigos reunited here with the team who made Come On Now Social, there’s an easeful vibrancy to the whole affair that seems to let each of them lean into their strengths: a refinement and revival of classic Saliers melodies and a celebration of Ray’s free-range wanderings. So many quintessential IG elements come together on the laid-back social justice rocker that is “Muster.” What’s political is personal; what’s local is global: “It’s your first lock down. You’re so young. But so are the kids under the barrel bombs,” Ray sings in a wistfulness that feels, at once, urgent and exhausted. “It’s the evil we helped let loose. It’s what we’ve become. It’s all a gun, it’s all a gun.”
The set concludes with the beautifully sentimental “Sorrow and Joy,” a Saliers ode to her younger sister who died as a child. It’s a moment in a life that still reverberates all these many years later, just as a wing-flap or a cough in one place leads to a tornado or a ventilator in another. One potential moral of this album’s story: If you aren’t looking long at life, are you even looking at all?