by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
On their best record in a decade, the Indigo Girls harken back even as they move forward. Rites of Passage, Swamp Ophelia, Shaming of the Sun, and Come on Now Social — arguably the best albums in the Indigo catalog — all echo softly through this set, whether in the note choices of a harmony or the layout of an arrangement. And One Lost Day rises up from those roots to find its own wings, set aloft on the thoroughly thoughtful production of Jordan Brooke Hamlin.
As should be expected, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers alternate between the political and the personal in their songwriting, sometimes blurring the lines that divide the two. Saliers starts the set by recounting a tale from her Tulane days that involved her friend “Elizabeth.” (She has joked that writing songs like this one is her way of reaching out to old friends because she doesn’t do Facebook. Whatever works!) Ray counters that sentiment with the album’s lead single, “Happy in the Sorrow Key.” Here, she contemplates what it means to be content — yes, happy — even while riding out the turbulence of the human existence.
Themes of life and death, the coming and the going, are plentiful in Ray’s half of the song cycle — at least a few of her compositions were finished during and after a small window of time that saw both her father’s passing and her daughter’s birth. “Texas Was Clean” is a hypnotic dream of a life long lost to the passing of time. “Texas was clean, just a no-man’s dream. A slate that I’d never written on. The dust blown ’round, lonely town, boots on the porch of a barn. As far from the South without getting out of the corner of my heart,” Ray and Saliers sing in harmonic unison before splitting off into separate parts — the muted drums and tender guitars leading the way.
Reckoning is another theme that finds its way into tunes like “Spread the Pain Around,” “If I Don’t Leave Here Now,” and “Fishtails,” each of which evidences some of the best writing and performances the Girls have ever laid down. And, of course, they both give what they got in spades as Ray puts her customary edge on “The Rise of the Black Messiah” and Saliers lays her lovely lilt all over “Come a Long Way.”
More than 30 years into playing together, the Indigo Girls once again remind us why they have lasted and why they are loved. Their songs continue to be both bold and thoughtful, and their voices are as rich and robust as ever.