They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Emily Saliers, of the folk duo Indigo Girls, turns 57 today. She and Amy Ray have enjoyed a long collaboration. They have known each other since elementary school and have been playing together since high school in 1985. Since then they have recorded 16 studio albums, including their most recent Look Look that they released in May.
As Karen Tongson writes in her Turning the Tables piece on the band’s influence: “To know if you are an Emily or an Amy is akin to declaring a strong preference for Wordsworth or Coleridge, as much as for Lennon or McCartney.” The pair write songs individually but then join together to perform, building albums with a mix of both of their songwriting styles and points of view. Despite never really becoming mainstream, these two as individuals and as part of their iconic duo have had a powerful impact on their fans and on the culture of music itself. Want to know more about their legacy? Check out the band’s Tumblr blog that documents the history of their work together.
As our contribution to Saliers’ birthday celebration, we’ll hear a cover by the Indigo Girls, covers of three Indigo Girls hits written by Saliers, and a cover of one of their particularly political collaborations.
Indigo Girls — Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob Dylan cover)
We’ll start with a cover by the Indigo Girls, but no, it isn’t their hit “Romeo and Juliet” (which is actually a cover of a Dire Straits song). Since this Bob Dylan song takes the melody from a public domain song and borrows lines from a folk song adaptation, it’s only fair that the Indigo Girls also get to have their take on the song. They bring a less somber mood to the song in both their style of singing and in the energy they put into the instrumentation. Their version has a similar guitar-plucking prowess that continues into interludes where the harmonica used to be. Contrasting Dylan’s solo performance, Saliers and Ray are able to blend harmonies to add richness to the vocals.
Pearson — Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls cover)
This song is the Indigo Girls’ most-played song on Spotify (and the single that reached the highest on the charts). Bizarrely, it does not have a Wikipedia page (ditto for their second-most-played song that follows). What is up with that? Indigo Girls fans of the world unite and give Saliers the perfect birthday presents: web presence! (Luckily, you can still read about this song’s legacy on Stereogum.) The song’s “and the less I seek my source for some definitive / the closer I am to fine” sentiment is similar to “don’t think twice, it’s all right.”
There are many covers of this song that stick to the spirit of the original, but Pearson’s cover is a little different. It’s more rock than folk rock and gets at the angst and energy of someone belting out this song on a road trip (considered a rite of passage for some). This version comes off as more bitter than the original, but sometimes you have to pass through that feeling before feeling “closer to fine.”
High Hello — The Power of Two (Indigo Girls cover)
The Indigo Girls have written some of the most powerful queer anthems of the modern era. This song is often cited in particular as part of that “canon” or as a way to reference the duo’s own musical mastery. This version is faithful to the original and, as a bonus point of authenticity, is performed by childhood friends. It’s a simple delivery, relying on only guitar and leaving out some of the extra sounds from the original. Still, the attention to detail in the guitar and harmony parts make it a crisp and heartfelt cover.
The Accidentals — Galileo (Indigo Girls cover)
This song was the duo’s first song to ever crack the top 10 ceiling of a chart (it took #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart). Who knew a song about reincarnation that also taught us about the Scientific Revolution would be such a hit? The Accidentals’ Savannah Buist and Katie Larson both started as string players and became an orchestral duo in high school. This long time experience working together is evident in this video; they are in the zone. Michael Dause on drums contributes his own spin on this song’s unique sounding percussion and provides just a touch of vocals in a lower vocal range to the choruses. I’m an especially big fan of the interlude where the mandolin full on rocks out.
Calli Malpas — Dear Mr. President (P!nk feat. Indigo Girls cover)
This collaboration with P!nk spoke to a different president, but the song sadly still hits home today. The Indigo Girls’ musical career has had activism woven in from the start. They helped form the Honor the Earth foundation with Winona LaDuke in 1993 to support environmental issues pertinent to Native American populations. Recently, their livestreams to promote their new album have raised money for FeedingTheValley.org in their home state of Georgia. Calli Malpas’s version matches the heartfelt original. The delicate guitar transitions contrast the raw power of the vocals and ultimate message. Do you like the P!nk + Indigo Girls combination with a dash of protest? Here’s another song that fits the bill!