One of music’s most underrated duos, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers - otherwise known as Indigo Girls - are finally getting their moment in the spotlight.
Right now, it’s all thanks to Greta Gerwig using ‘Closer to Fine’ – one of the directors “favourite songs of all time” – as a centrepiece of her glorious Barbie movie… not once, not twice, but three times! But even that’s not quite Ken-ough.
Across three decades, the Indigo Girls’ have picked up endless fans and collaborators, including Steve Earle, Brandi Carlile, REM, Allison Russell, Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Katie Pruitt.
Anyone wanting to further explore the back catalogue of the gay icons from Atlanta, Georgia need look no further, as Holler has rounded up 15 of their best songs, right here.
Witness the invention of the trademark Indigo Girls sound on their major label debut album. Sweet vocals and gorgeous overlapping harmonies steer you in one direction, while some darker, harsher truths are told in the lyrics as they seek escape; “No-one can convince me we aren't gluttons for our doom”.
This fabulous live performance is from January 1990.
Written by Emily Saliers on a ukulele – which was a new experience for her – this is a deceptively simple acoustic arrangement that ventures into a pop groove.
The lyrics skip around imagery of things cooling off and ending as strong friendship persists – much as her creative partnership with Amy Ray has.
Your writer first heard this when they saw the duo at London’s tiny Borderline venue, immediately pulling them back to that night every time.
Initially on their pre-fame album Strange Fire, this ode to loneliness features some serious duelling picking. It’s a track that works so well live, too; their voices arguing as much as harmonising.
Soulful lead vocals from its songwriter Amy Ray are matched by the bluesy Hammond organ, and you can sense the duo’s religious background with lyrics referencing “bearing witness”.
On this performance from 2010, they’re joined by Helen Forster and the eTones in front of a live audience.
As Saliers’ sweet voice lingers on this ode she wrote to loss and the past, you’re instantly reminded of the subtlety of Joni Mitchell – who the duo have occasionally covered.
Piano lines, subtle strings and gentle picking propel the song along, as Ray’s warm harmonies throw light onto the chorus. Gorgeous.
A classic counting – or even accounting – love song in the style of ‘Three Steps to Heaven’.
Fiddles dance around the gentle, shuffling lullaby as Ray’s lyrics get playful, referencing back-breaking and bawling while pulling you into focused and uncompromising devotion.
With it's organic, full band sound, this is very much an on-the-move song.
Saliers’ couplets confront some very personal demons here, an uneasy sense of sadness permeating her lyrics that touch on awkward “love triangle geometry”, despite the carefree and uplifting nature of the music.
Angry and punkish, this is full of youthful vitriol and crashing energy as wild fiddles cradle Ray’s stories of life on the town: “gravel and glass on the bottom of my feet/ I bruised my heels on the swollen street”. Even the video is a neat summary of everything early nineties, from haircuts to skateboards – and note the Sgt Pepper jacket!
Perhaps their ultimate love song, 'Power of Two' has been appropriated for endless weddings.
Saliers’ lyrics nod towards a couple’s resilience being “stronger than the monster beneath your bed”, again using accounting to quantify it; “adding up the total of a love that’s true, multiply life by the power of two”.
Bonus points must be given to Bill Newton’s chromatic harmonica that casually drifts in, adding to the James Taylor west coast vibe.
Last time I saw the Indigo Girls – headlining Cambridge Folk Festival in 2017 – this is the song they opened with.
It's folky nooks and crannies were wholly appropriate for the occasion, warmth pouring from every pore like drinking a huge cup of coffee before embarking on a big journey.
An ironically titled song, crammed with memories and moments to look back on and unravel.
The duo's impossibly blissful harmonies weave in and out as the band crunch around them, led by the Cajun accordion of Jo-El Sonnier.
The video – again very much of its time – is also a joy!
Very reminiscent of Suzanne Vega's ballad era, 'Ghost' explores in similar fashion the idea of being in love with the ghost of someone you've lost.
It's all wonderfully complemented by the subtle, expressive percussion of Jerry Marotta and the magnificent, soaring string arrangement of Michael Kamen.
A timeless, definitive single with Ray at the fore, 'Kid Fears' possesses the perfect guest vocals of friend and fellow Georgia native Michael Stipe, with the rest of REM also playing on the song.
Ray’s stark lyrics tackle abuse, growing up and entering a world where people know your hiding places and secrets.
Yes, this is about the famous 17th Century physicist and reincarnation.
Emily’s voice is once again upfront, with bona fide west coast stars Jackson Browne and David Crosby lurking quietly behind on backing.
Despite the lyrical profundity, the video is full of fun dressing up – plus that Sgt Pepper jacket again.
The song that kickstarted the duo’s career and recently introduced them to wave of new fans, thanks to Greta Gerwig featuring it in her Barbie movie.
On the original record and video, they collaborated with Irish band The Hothouse Flowers, which included piercing tin whistle from Fiachna Ó Braonáin and backing vocals from Christie Moore’s brother, Luka Bloom.
Katie Pruitt calls this the “northern star” of songwriting, and is amazed it’s having a resurgence from “a franchise that I grew up associating with extreme heteronormativity. I love how now they’re rebranding it as something incredibly inclusive.”
Brandi Carlile says watching this “life-affirming song make its way to new ears is probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen in years.”
Ray herself says “it’s just absolutely wonderful that they’re using it” and Saliers calls it “a big giant gift that fell out of the sky".
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