Longtime fans of the Indigo Girls will find themselves back in familiar territory on One Lost Day, the first album from the duo since 2011’s Beauty Queen Sister: the same sweet harmonies, the same contrast between Emily Saliers’ crystal-clear voice and Amy Ray’s rougher one that gives their singing a touch of bite, the same emotional songs that are somehow both broadly universal and intensely personal at the same time.
Case in point: the opening track, “Elizabeth,” a bittersweet look back at adolescence and the good times shared with one special friend. But there’s a modern twist. Instead of the narrator deciding it’s time to seek out that long-lost friend via social media, she decides there’s no need to do so: “I’m pretty sure it’s just enough/that I remember you fondly.” It’s a rather touching sentiment in these days of oversharing.
The two have brought in a new producer, Jordan Brooke Hamlin (whom the Indigos knew through her work with Lucy Wainwright Roche), who has made some astute suggestions, such as advising Saliers to slow down the tempo of “If I Don’t Leave Here Now,” which makes this look at the perils of addiction especially poignant. The album is also a dialogue of sorts, with Saliers and Ray alternating lead vocals on songs; Ray’s “Spread the Pain Around,” which tackles the difficulties of getting a relationship to work is answered by Saliers’ “Learned It On Me,” a look at the aftermath of a failed relationship, offered as a commiseration. The most searing juxtaposition comes in the album’s toughest numbers, Ray’s “The Rise of the Black Messiah” and Saliers’ “Findlay, Ohio 1968.” The former is a fierce attack on racial inequality, with a musical backing that rages like a roiling storm. The latter is more contemplative, as Saliers looks back to a childhood visit at a time when the generation gap was about to explode into violence: “In two years’ time Ohio will be up in flames.” But both are equally sharp critiques of injustice.
It’s the acoustically driven numbers, like Saliers’ “Alberta,” a moving song based on a 1903 rockslide that buried part of the mining town of Frank, Alberta, that spotlight the strength of the duo’s voices. But it has to be said, it’s always fun to hear the Indigo Girls rocking out, as on Ray’s “Olympia Inn,” the kind of rollicking jaunt that readily conjures up the feel of the open road. And it’s not surprising there’s a touch of grunge on “Happy in the Sorrow Key,” a rousing number about the importance of not turning away from harsh realities; Ray plays her guitar through a “dirty and spanky” “bad-ass” amp she picked up in Seattle. And the final track, “Come a Long Way,” which rises from a quiet start to a glorious swirl of sound, gives a nod to the past while keeping a firm eye on the future, and neatly summarizes the Indigo Girls’ own journey; they’ve come a long way but are still going strong.