Staring Down the Brilliant Dream
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2010, Volume 17, #8
Written by John Metzger
Fri August 20, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
The last time that the Indigo Girls issued a concert album, the group was in its prime. The ubiquitousness of its breakthrough single (Closer to Fine) had pushed the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers into the limelight, while the wide reach of Galileo proved that their initial success wasn’t a fluke. In addition, with outings like Rites of Passage and Swamp Ophelia, Ray and Saliers managed simultaneously to broaden their horizons and to make the case that they were more than just fleeting pop stars. The expansive, double-disc live set 1200 Curfews, then, gave the Indigo Girls an opportunity to celebrate its accomplishments by taking stock of its career.
In the wake of 1200 Curfews, however, the Indigo Girls has unleashed a wildly inconsistent string of albums. For the most part, the group has been most engaged in its work whenever it has repositioned its folksy strumming by adding new textures to its arrangements, thereby opening new avenues of exploration (Shaming of the Sun, Despite Our Differences). In contrast, the Indigo Girls has faltered whenever it has retreated to safer terrain (Come on Now Social, Become You). To be fair, none of its albums have been horrific — not by any stretch — and all of them have contributed, at the very least, a few worthwhile songs to the duo’s repertoire.
Staring Down the Brilliant Dream, the Indigo Girls’ latest concert album, serves as a sequel of sorts to 1200 Curfews. Recorded at an abundance of shows held between 2006 and 2009, the collection follows a familiar pattern. In effect, much like its predecessor, the endeavor approximates the atmosphere of a typical evening with the Indigo Girls. It accomplishes this feat by stringing together material from across the full range of the duo’s canon, while also adding a few well-chosen cover tunes. Given the general lack of duplication among the track listings for the outings, Staring Down the Brilliant Dream and 1200 Curfews form a comprehensive overview of the group’s canon.
The best thing about Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is, perhaps, how well it redefines some of the songs from the latter portion of the Indigo Girls’ career. Heartache for Everyone, for example, pulses with bubbly, punk-ish energy, while the tumultuous, gospel-blues current of Tether is downright cathartic. Elsewhere, Love of Our Lives benefits from its less fastidious arrangement as well as the duo’s confident delivery, and the electric hum that underscores Three County Highway augments the tune’s sense of sadness and longing.
Despite its strengths, though, Staring Down the Brilliant Dream pales in comparison to 1200 Curfews. Although it contains several emotionally intense moments — the churning, angst-filled Go; the defiant charge of Shame on You; the joyous celebration of Get Out the Map — the Indigo Girls’ recent albums, from which most of Staring Down the Brilliant Dream’s material was culled, simply have not contained many songs that can hold their own against the duo’s early works. Even the cover tunes that surface during the set — in this case, Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses — falter. Both tracks are tackled competently. Yet, they fail to approach the magnificence with which the Indigo Girls had offered its renditions of Joni Mitchell’s River, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Neil Young’s Down by the River, Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue, and the Pips’ hit Midnight Train to Georgia during the concerts that produced 1200 Curfews.
In other words, Staring Down the Brilliant Dream has the unfortunate effect of magnifying the reasons why the Indigo Girls no longer draws the kind of mainstream attention that it once did. For certain, the duo has developed a loyal group of devoted followers. Nevertheless, although it has done everything in its power to maintain their interest, the Indigo Girls has done little to challenge them or to cultivate new converts. Without a doubt, Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is another fan-centric endeavor that heads straight to the middle of a well-trodden road.
Of Further Interest...
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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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