It's hard to figure how Amy Ray and Emily Saliers manage to make such beautiful music together as the Indigo Girls.
Ray is from Georgia and Saliers is from Connecticut. The Southern girl's a little bit Clash and the northern girl's a little bit Kanye West.
Yet the duo has been making richly romantic and socially conscious folk-rock and pop together since the mid-'80s, when the Atlanta-based duo started releasing their recordings independently, and their contrasting influences created a sound that landed them a major label contract in 1988, when similar female acts such as Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega were beginning to stir up the mainstream charts.
Twenty-four years, one Grammy and 14 albums later, the Indigos have built one of the strongest and most devoted followings in the business, without the aid of hit singles. Their latest album, “Beauty Queen Sister,” is their fourth on the independent IG Recordings label — distributed by Vanguard — which they established in 2009 after nine albums on Epic Records and one on the Hollywood imprint.
They no longer have big-label money behind them, but it hasn't slowed down their record output a bit.
“No, no, it's easier to get an album made,” Ray said from her Georgia home last week. “We don't have the same money we had, but that doesn't matter because we just make sure we know the songs really well so we don't waste (studio) time.”
It also helps to have talented musicians who can nail a song in the least amount of takes, and a skilled producer with whom they can feel comfortable. Ray and Saliers reteamed with Peter Collins, who twirled the knobs on 1992's “Rites of Passage” and '94's “Swamp Ophelia.”
Session players included drummer Brady Blade, bassist Frank Sward, standup bassist Viktor Krauss (brother of Alison) and violinist Luke Bull, Nashville hands who lend what Ray described as the album's “organic sound.”
“I mean, we made the record in two weeks and basically every day we went in and we were like, ‘All right, what song are we gonna do today?' And they didn't know the songs, and we would teach them the songs and we would play it. It was very defined by that musical moment, everybody just playing live and you just let everybody do their thing.”
For the duo's current tour, which brings them to Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa on Sunday, the Indigo Girls are bringing along a young Atlanta-based band called the Shadowboxers, who will open the show and then serve as Ray and Saliers' backup band.