At this point, “folk icons” might as well be in the Indigo Girls’ job description. Over their long career Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have learned a thing or two, and now that so many of us have a bit more time alone with our thoughts, there’s no time like the present to hear out what they have picked up along the way.
Like its title, Look Long (★★★★☆) is just as much a mission statement as it is wise advice. The driving inspiration behind the album, according to Saliers, was to set out to find the balance between the need to acknowledge and grieve our shortcomings and limitations, but to also “look beyond what’s right in front of us, take the long view of things, and strive to do better.” This is an album that invites us to stand still, take stock of where we are, how we got here, and what we can take with us into the future.
While the album may have been born from a need to take a long view of things, more often than not it finds the duo looking backward, leaving the search for a way forward as a secondary concern. Once past the first three tracks, they get caught up reminiscing about past joys, pains, and frustrations. True to form, Ray and Saliers are sentimental yet honest songwriters, more clear-headed than nostalgic when it comes to reflecting on the past.
With its blunt assessment of the past, opener “Shit Kickin'” sets the tone for the album. In their most incisive lyrics, Ray lays out the thorniness of uncovering where you have come from, singing about her grandfather’s journals: “If you can find him, you can love him/But girl, you got to be honest about him.”
Saliers and Ray revisit the messiness and complexity of the past in more personal terms on the gorgeously pensive “Country Radio.” Apparently, fond memories of listening to the country station on the way to work can quickly become a stand-in for the feeling of something being an escape from a bleak everyday reality at the same time as it is a glimpse into something seemingly unattainable. The amount of sadness that Saliers packs into the line, “I’m just a gay kid who loves country radio” is a testament to the quiet power of the songwriting.
The Indigo Girls’ albums have always masterfully walked the line between the personal and the universal. It is hard not to read autobiographical intent in “When We Were Writers,” a song about looking inside to rediscover a fire that still burns, even though the circumstances that sparked it may be long gone. “Wrestle the beast that leaves you diminished,” they advise, “it’s alright you will never be finished.” When advice like that comes from two artists who have been at the top of their game for the better part of three decades, it’s best to listen.
Available for streaming and purchase on May 22.
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