The Indigo Girls - Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, started out as girlhood friends in the musical city of Athens, Ga. The women write their pieces separately, giving their albums a wide emotional and musical range. They work together on the instrumentations, though, giving each song their combined styles and lending the album unity and flow despite two different styles.
After performing under several names (First The B-Band and later Saliers and Ray), they released their first full length album, Strange Fire, in 1987. In 1989, The Indigo Girls were signed by the Epic label in the wake of the success of Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega. Their first album with Epic, Indigo Girls, was released the same year. Ray's intense, rock-influenced songs balanced against Saliers' introspective lyrics and delicate, classical-inspired harmonies and gave an early sample of what they would become. It was a smash hit. R.E.M's Michael Stipe sang on Amy Ray's dark, poetic “Kid Fears,” which gave the duo radio cred, while “Closer to Fine” became a hit. The album broke the top 30 and achieved double platinum sales by 1992.
1990's Nomads Saints Indians wasn't as widely praised as their previous albums, although it was nominated for a Grammy and went gold. The album further explores their poetic visions from a more global perspective. In “Hammer and a Nail,” Saliers explores the ideas of hard work and community in politically-minded but positive lyrics “My life is part of the global life/I'd found myself becoming more immobile/When I'd think a little girl in the world can't do anything/A distant nation my community/A street person my responsibility/If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring.”
Although winning an earned a Grammy for Best Folk Recording in 1990, the Indigo Girls showed both in their early years and later that they go well beyond traditional folk music. Their incredibly singable melodies reveal finely-woven details with each hearing. Rites of Passage, the Indigo Girls' fourth studio album, was released in 1992 to rave reviews and wide audience appeal. Their fifth album, Swamp Ophilia, went gold. Songs like “Language or the Kiss” and “The Wood Song” poetically explored the language of relationships and the effect of life choices.
Shaming of the Sun, released in 1997, was considered formulaic by some reviewers, but also received raves and was well-received by their large and loyal fan base. The songs have a sadness about them, with “Hey Kind Friend” bidding goodbye and the achingly sad “Leeds” lamenting social wrongs. Their seventh studio album, Come on Now Social, released in 1999, received wide positive reviews. The album shows the Indigo Girls experimenting with several different styles including straight rock and roll, old-style folk, modern country and even soul-pop. The album's first song, “Peace Tonight,” is high-spirited and almost danceable. 2002 album Become You had a more stripped-down sound in comparison to other albums and was considered more reachable and less didactic than other albums. It includes hidden track “Philosophy of Loss.”
The Indigo Girls' last release on the Epic label was All That We Let In, released in 2004. Despite our Differences came out in 2006 under the Hollywood label, earning a No. 44 spot on the Billboard charts. Though signed to a five-record deal with Hollywood, this was the only album they would put out under the label. Poseidon and the Bitter Bug was released in 2009 and was their first independent album in over 20 years. “Digging for Your Dream” hits a double chord of meloncholy and hope, imploring the listener: “You take your prospects and your pickaxe/And you trudged down to the stream/And you bloody your hands diggin' for your dream.”
Beauty Queen Sister is their most recent and 14th studio album, released under their own IG recordings imprint for Vanguard records. Producer Peter Collins rejoined them for this album after a many years hiatus (he produced Rites of Passage and Swamp Ophilia). The album brings back some of the sounds of earlier albums with “Share the Moon” and “Gone” while title song “Beauty Queen Sister” brings in almost a ska vibe.
The Indigo Girls, aka Amy and Emily, have individual causes and projects outside of the group. Emily Saliers is the co-owner of the Watershed on Peachtree restaurant in Atlanta, Ga. One can only imagine that the name of the restaurant comes from the song “Watershed” off their Nomads Saints Indians album. The restaurant focuses on values you would expect from Saliers: organic food, a soulful Southern feel and community consciousness. Both members of the duo have both championed issues including gay rights, the environment and rights of Native Americans. Ray has released a number of solo albums and is the owner of Daemon Records, which has signed a number of artists since its start in 1990.
Some have criticized the Indigo Girls for being too political, but that criticism reveals a very surface -oriented view of their music. They often speak of political and environmental issues in their songs, but at the heart of their lyrics is almost always something deeper and more over-reaching. Themes of love and loss, community, acceptance and determination shine through their songs, attracting an audience of followers deeply affected by their work.