The Indigo Girls are among the most enduring musical outfits to emerge from the late-'80s female singer/songwriter scene and to a lesser degree the later iteration of the Athens, Georgia scene that birthed R.E.M., Love Tractor, and Widespread Panic. The Grammy-winning duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers established a devoted national fan base thanks to early hits such as "Closer to Fine" from their self-titled Epic release in 1988; it was the first of six consecutive gold and/or platinum-certified albums. Their two-women-with-guitars formula may not have been revolutionary on paper, but the combination of two distinct musical personalities and songwriting styles provided tension and an interesting balance. Saliers, hailing from the Joni Mitchell school, boasted a gentler sound but was more compositionally complex, with lyrics that revealed the abstract and spiritual. Ray drew heavily from the singer/songwriter tenets of punk rock, citing influences such as the Jam, the Pretenders, and Hüsker Dü for her more direct, often confessional approach. The Indigo Girls are celebrated almost as much for their political and social activism on such issues as LGBTQ and Native American rights, protecting the environment, and work against the death penalty. With a passionate live show that consciously sought to erase distances between audience and performer, they grew a fan base across U.S. borders into Canada and Europe. Later recordings, such as 1994's Swamp Ophelia, led by the charting single "Least Complicated," sustained their appeal even as their sound expanded to include Americana, rock, and even blues. To bring across their vision, they employed touring bands filled with top-shelf musicians including Budgie, Sara Lee, Gail Ann Dorsey, Brady Blade, Matt Chamberlain, Jane Scarpantoni, and Caroline LaVelle. After leaving Epic, the Indigo Girls delivered Grammy-nominated Top 50 albums for the Hollywood, Vanguard and IG labels, including 2006's Mitchell Froom-produced Despite Our Differences, 2009's Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, and 2011's Beauty Queen Sister.
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers first took the name Indigo Girls while living in Atlanta in 1985, although they had been performing together since high school under the name "the B-Band." In 1986, they recorded an independent self-titled EP and followed in 1987 with the full-length Strange Fire -- only 7,000 copies were pressed, however, and very little interest was generated. Things changed quickly in 1988 when, in the wake of the success of Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, and 10,000 Maniacs, the duo seemed to fit nicely into "the next big thing." Appropriately, Epic Records was quick to sign them.
Indigo Girls, released in 1989, was an excellent national debut. A guest vocal by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe ("Kid Fears") gave them initial college radio credibility, and the single "Closer to Fine" was a hit -- buoyed by those strengths, the album eventually broke the Top 30 and earned a Grammy for Best Folk Recording that year. By the end of 1991, it achieved platinum sales. Strange Fire was reissued in the fall, with a cover of "Get Together" replacing one of the original tracks. The follow-up, 1990's Nomads Indians Saints, didn't fare quite as well. Although it was nominated for a Grammy and eventually reached gold status, the material wasn't nearly as strong. A live EP, Back on the Bus, Y'All, was released in 1991 while the women regrouped; it, too, was certified gold and garnered a Grammy nomination.
In the spring of 1992, the Indigo Girls made a comeback with Rites of Passage, which debuted at number 22 and went platinum by the year's end. The album showed an increasing diversity and some of their strongest songs to date. Almost exactly two years later, Swamp Ophelia was released and entered the charts at number nine; it went gold by the end of the year. A double live album, 1200 Curfews, was released in 1995, and the much awaited follow-up to Swamp Ophelia, Shaming of the Sun, followed in 1997. The duo's next effort, Come on Now Social, appeared two years later.
Released in 2002, Become You was stripped down in comparison to the orchestration of the Girls' more recent work, and 2004's All That We Let In was generally regarded as their strongest album in years. A rarities set appeared the following year, marking Saliers and Ray's 20-year anniversary as the Indigo Girls, as well as their last release on the Epic roster. Shortly thereafter, Saliers and Ray signed a five-album deal with Hollywood Records, although the songwriters only released one record -- the Mitchell Froom-produced Despite Our Differences, issued in 2006 -- before Hollywood dropped them from its roster. The Indigo Girls took to their website to assure fans that the band would move onward, and 2009's Poseidon and the Bitter Bug marked their first independent release in over 20 years.
Released in 2010, the double-disc Staring Down the Brilliant Dream featured live performances from shows between 2006 and 2009, and the duo wrapped up the year by releasing a holiday-themed bluegrass album, Holly Happy Days. Issued in 2011, Beauty Queen Sister, the Indigo Girls' 14th studio album and the fourth to be released on their own IG Recordings imprint for Vanguard Records, reunited them with producer Peter Collins, who helmed the duo's earlier albums Rites of Passage and Swamp Ophelia. After an extended tour and a lengthy break, Ray and Saliers went back to work, this time in various Nashville recording studios with producer Jordan Brooke Hamlin. One Lost Day was released in June of 2015, in the middle of a nationwide tour. In the summer of 2018, the duo released Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra via Rounder. Though cut during a single show in Boulder, the recording marked the end of a tour through 50 American cities accompanied by various large ensembles. Mixed by Trina Shoemaker, its 22 tracks were arranged by Sean O'Loughlin and Stephen Barber.
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