Indigo Girls
Nomads Indians Saints
(Epic 46820)

Inspired writing, impeccable performances, and an overall thematic continuity – this is the Indigo Girls at their absolute best, with none of the overdramatic indulgence that has sullied some of their more recent albums. One of my more rabid obsessions from the late 80s/early 90s, the Indigo Girls remain a favorite while other bands I liked around the same time fall away.

And Nomads Indians Saints remains, to me, the best expression of their immeasurable talent. An album that meant a lot to you at a specific point in time often yellows with age, brought along into the present by virtue of loyalty – but this album commands my attention and my respect even hearing it now, for the who-knows- how-many-th time?

I always saw Nomads as sort of a complement or extension of Indigo Girls, the Girls' major label debut, but while the songs from this album gained airplay, nothing here ever got overplayed to the extent of a "Closer to Fine." I'd say that the songs, overall, are stronger on Nomads, full of shockingly good lyrics and deeply moving melodies. Amy Ray contributes a rock star edge to Emily Saliers' pretty folk approach, and the synergy is remarkable.

It's possible that some of this album, if I were hearing it for the first time now, would be met with the same "it's pretty good" shrug that I have given the last three I-Girls CDs, and that a great deal of my admiration for Nomads is rooted in nostalgia. Still, it's hard to deny songs like "Watershed" and "You and Me of the 10,000 Wars" – songwriting at the most personal level, yet the most universal as well.

"Hammer and a Nail" remains believable even as the optimistic activism it extols has become casualty to the 90s increasing materialism. "Welcome Me" and "World Falls" flow perfectly, followed by the almost cheesy John Denver-ish "Southland in the Springtime," which somehow manages to be quaint where it could have been ridiculous. "1 2 3" is a jagged rocker featuring the late, lamented Ellen James Society (should have been a great band), "Keeper of My Heart" reinforces Amy's theme of addiction which crops up throughout the album, but is at base just a great song.

The centerpiece of the album is the glorious "Watershed," a song the likes of which anyone would be damn fortunate to writeit's as close as a song from the last 20 years has come to being a standard, for me at least – a very deep song, and perfectly arranged.

Side 2 gets more introspective: "Hand Me Downs," "10,000 Wars," "Pushing the Needle Too Far," and the heartbreaking "The Girl With the Weight of the World in Her Hands" (she ought to get together with "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side" … power '90s couple).

Amy & Emily's harmonies are phenomenal, and the simplicity of the instrumentation really serves the songs well. The Girls' more recent experimentation with bouzoukis and the like only make me return to the quintessential Indigo sound.

These are songs that changed lives, and probably continue to. I hope that music never loses this sort of immediacy to the music industry's processed sound and marketing approach. Albums like this demonstrate how dynamic music can be, how it can take you on a journey, and all that stupid stuff. Maybe the 90s aren't as immediately dismissable as I thought … there's a hopeful idea.

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Review by Dana Lee Roth