Holly Happy Days
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2010, Volume 17, #12
Written by John Metzger
Thu December 9, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
The Indigo Girls has been remarkably prolific of late. Over the past 18 months, the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers not only has issued a full-length studio set (Poseidon and the Bitter Bug) as well as a two-disc concert collection (Staring Down the Brilliant Dream), but they also have assembled the first holiday-focused endeavor (Holly Happy Days) of their collaborative career. Arguably, none of these outings matches the perfection of the Indigo Girls’ early ’90s trilogy — Rites of Passage, Swamp Ophelia, and 1200 Curfews. Nevertheless, a case certainly could be made that the group is fighting harder than ever to maintain its relevance.
For decades, artists have pushed Christmas-oriented albums into the marketplace without putting much thought into them. As a result, Yuletide offerings have earned a notoriously bad reputation. In fact, they often are viewed as the scourge of the music business. Regardless, every year, there are at least a few efforts that deserve more than a superficial glance. This year’s prize just might be the Indigo Girls’ Holly Happy Days. Without a doubt, the effort is not the typical coffer-filling collection of holiday tunes. Instead, Saliers and Ray seem to have gone out of their way to differentiate the affair from a lot of the other packages that are available.
Rather than filling Holly Happy Days with oft-covered selections from the past that already have been perfected by countless other artists, the Indigo Girls followed a different route in their bid to assemble a mixture of contemporary and traditional tunes. Although the duo tackled a handful of well-worn nuggets — Oh Holy Night, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and Angels We Have Heard on High — Saliers and Ray also discovered a fresh perspective from which to sing them. As for the rest of the collection, it is composed of less familiar fare that ranges from the traditional hymn Peace Child to Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah to several original compositions. Even a cover of Beth Nielson Chapman’s treacly There’s Still My Joy fits neatly alongside the rest of the material.
In crafting Holly Happy Days, Saliers and Ray enlisted the help of a few good friends — Brandi Carlile, Janis Ian, and Mary Gauthier — for vocal support. The duo’s backing band, however, was filled with hired guns from the roots-music scene: Alison Brown, Viktor Krauss, Lloyd Maines, Luke Bulla, and Jim Brock. Although most of the selections retain the folk-pop gracefulness that has become the Indigo Girls’ bread-and-butter, there also are times when the collective opens new doors by pushing its work firmly onto bluegrass-minded terrain. The perfect harmonies of Saliers and Ray are as well suited to the Appalachian arrangements as they are to the regal hymns. The end result is that Holly Happy Days is the most natural-sounding effort that the Indigo Girls has concocted in years.
Of Further Interest...
Holly Happy Days is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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