May 072013

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

It must be amazing when singers realize that their voices sound particularly good together. Think of The Roches, the Everly Brothers (who have the benefit of being siblings), Crosby, Stills & Nash, Exene Cervenka and John Doe, Gary Louris and Mark Olson, or Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball. One can imagine the joy that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers felt when they realized that they had something special when they harmonized.

Remarkably, Amy and Emily have known each other since elementary school in Georgia, and have been singing together since high school. After heading off to separate colleges, they reunited at Emory University and became the Indigo Girls. Although their initial independent releases were not widely heard, they found themselves caught up in the late 1980s wave of female musicians, and were signed by a major label.

A quarter century later, after many of their initial contemporaries have dropped off the map, Amy and Emily continue to tour, record, promote other musicians and try to improve the world. Not only have the Indigo Girls had a long, successful career, they have always been politically active, with particular focus on environmental and LGBT rights, and they have often done benefits for the causes in which they believe. Their connection with their enthusiastic fans continues unabated. In addition, they appear to be remarkably generous artistically — they support other musicians, are gracious to their opening acts (who often perform with them during their sets), and they even allow guests and members of their touring bands and crew to take prominent roles on stage.

Both of the Indigo Girls are talented songwriters, but they almost always write separately. Most analyses of the Indigo Girls focus on Emily’s more folky influences and Amy’s punkier predilections, but despite this, the bulk of their recorded output would be considered as “folk-rock.” Their influences can be seen by the variety of covers they perform live. Not surprisingly, the Indigo Girls allow taping of shows, so there is a nice archive available of unreleased covers, which we will focus on here, leaving for your investigation the few covers that they have officially released.

Indigo Girls — Hammond Song (The Roches cover)

Speaking of the Roches, here is a cover of one of their best songs, “Hammond Song,” from an early (1985) Indigo Girls acoustic duo performance. It shows them admirably trying to perform a song originally done by a trio and recognizing their debt to the Roches’ harmonies.

Indigo Girls — Girls Talk (Elvis Costello cover)

From the same 1985 performance, here is a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Girls Talk,” which is actually probably better known from Dave Edmunds’s cover, and the Indigo Girls’ version is more like Edmunds’s than Costello’s. The gender-bending choice of a woman singing a song written by a man about a woman is fitting.

Indigo Girls (with Viva la Vida) — London Calling (The Clash cover)

Jump ahead to 1990: the Indigo Girls have released their major label debut and are on the national musical map. This performance of the Clash‘s “London Calling,” at the Earth Jam at Stone Mountain Park with an electric band, again pays tribute to the duo’s somewhat hidden debt to English punk.

Indigo Girls (with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jackson Browne, Nanci Griffith, Murray Attaway and Kristen Hall) – Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell cover)

From the same Earth Jam show, Amy and Emily are joined by some folk-rock luminaries, as well as the lesser-known Murray Attaway (from the underappreciated Georgia based band Guadalcanal Diary) and Kristen Hall, an Indigo Girls protégé and crew member who has gone on to her own solo career. Joni Mitchell‘s “Big Yellow Taxi,” is a perfect song for an environmentally related festival, and the group captures the song’s tension between its serious message and fun music.

Indigo Girls (with Michelle Malone) – Wild Horses (The Rolling Stones cover)

From a performance in 2000, here is a fine cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” featuring another long-time Indigo Girls friend Michelle Malone, an excellent singer, songwriter, and guitarist who often opens for them.

The Wonder Stuff – Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls cover)

Surprisingly, considering the number of popular Indigo Girls songs and their long career, there do not appear to be many released covers of their music. Here’s one from the Wonder Stuff, a fairly good pop/punk band that was pretty popular for a few years in England without making much of an impression in the US. Although they were known for being kind of snotty and irreverent, this cover of “Closer to Fine” appears to be irony-free and respectful, and the fiddle adds a nice touch.

Video: Carly Henry – Power of Two (Indigo Girls cover)

On the other hand, it seems that almost every young woman (and many men) with an acoustic guitar has posted an Indigo Girls cover to YouTube. Here’s just one, by the young and talented Carly Henry (unfortunately, the video cuts off slightly prematurely). Sadly, Henry took her life at the age of 20, but her version of “Power of Two” is a worthy way to remember her.

The official Indigo Girls catalog is available on iTunes and Amazon.

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  2 Responses to “In the Spotlight: Indigo Girls”

Comments (2)
  1. I love their cover of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”.

  2. Many thanks for these. There’s a cover of ‘Closer To Fine’ on Eef Barzelay’s Fan Chosen Covers Volume 2. Unfortunately, much as I love Eef, it’s a dire version – his lack of interest in the song is probably signalled by his even getting the title wrong…

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