Two bands with two lead singers today: A long-awaited double live album from the Indigo Girls and alt-country rockers Blue Giant’s debut on Vanguard.
Staring Down the Brilliant Dream
[Vanguard 2 CD Set (2010)]
In a career spanning three decades, the Indigo Girls have released three live albums, the latest of which is the new Staring Down the Brilliant Dream. For this release, they drew on three years of concert tapes to choose what they and co-producer Brian Speiser considered definitive versions of songs from throughout their history. Hits like “Closer to Fine,” “Shame on You,” and “Prince of Darkness” are balanced with more back catalog material as well as live versions of the bulk of the songs from their 2009 studio album Poseidon and the Bitter Bug. Two covers feature guest vocalists, with Michelle Malone harmonizing on “Wild Horses” and Brandi Carlisle joining in on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” The set is also a showcase for the duo’s formidable touring band, who crank out snarling hard rock on “Go,” country-folk on “Devotion, and summon up a bluesy vibe for “Moment of Forgiveness.” In general, the versions captured here are not arranged much differently than the studio versions, but those wanting to soak up the energy of an Indigo Girls show should be pleased with this release. [www.indigogirls.com]
—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)
[Vanguard 78077-2 (2010)]
Blue Giant‘s eponymous album is a debut done right.
Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Robinson’s lead vocals hold down most of the disc, but it’s Anita Robinson’s guitar work that puts the material over the top. Her slide playing swings between “stellar” and “rocks so hard it hurts” and calls to mind steel guitar players Paul Franklin and Lloyd Maines at their most raucous more than bluesy players like Bonnie Raitt or Lowell George. The Robinsons share songwriting duties and are joined by several other multi-instrumentalists here: Chris Funk (on loan from The Decemberists) provides pedal steel, banjo, bouzouki, and (in what might be a first for an alt-country album) hurdy gurdy; drummer Evan Railton also plays keyboards; and bassist Seth Lorinczi is yet another piano and organ player. A slightly different troupe has been on tour with the band.
The production—another role for Kevin Robinson—is full of pleasant surprises. “Clean the Clock,” which opens the album, has tempo changes and an extended guitar breakdown in the middle, with clever Beatles-y textures throughout. “Blue Sunshine” hits hard with a driving banjo riff and some of the most searing slide guitar on the album. “When Will the Sun Shine” and “Go On” (with Tim Perry) show that the band is at home doing mostly straight-ahead country rock, but then they’ll surprise you with a quiet moment in the former where Anita takes over the lead vocals to create a bridge that sounds like a new song. Toward the end of the disc, Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney joins Kevin for a duet on “Gone for Good,” which sounds like what might happen if the Decemberists decided to write a classic country song.
Despite the stellar performances and production, though, the band occasionally suffers from a disasterous lack of originality in their songwriting. “Lonely Girl” is a beautiful western gothic song that not only sounds as if it was influenced by Neko Case but as if it might have been a lost Neko Case track. The verse in “When Will the Sun Shine” is almost note-for-note Tom Petty’s “You’re So Bad.” “Target Heart” and “The Void Above the Sky” give me a similar feeling that I’ve heard them before.
Debut albums often pay homage to a group’s influences, so it’s reasonable to assume the group will iron out this problem on later records and put more of themselves into their songwriting. I for one will be thrilled to hear from the band again. [www.bluegiantland.com]
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)
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