The Indigo Girls are still at the top of their game on One Lost Day.
Four years have passed since the last Indigo Girls record, but a detail like that isn’t especially pertinent when discussing the longevity of the duo's career. The truth of the matter is this: for most artists who sustain a career longer than three albums, most fans have moved on, save for the core base. Perhaps they've forgotten about the band, or left their wayward listening habits in the dust of youth. This isn’t a detriment for such artists; rather, it’s simply a fact of growing up and out into a different person with different priorities. Or, as the Indigo Girls once sang on 1997’s Shaming of the Sun: “You shed your skin / Now shed this.”
I fall into the aforementioned group of listeners, the kind who have left bands from my youth behind in the dust. I couldn’t tell you the titles of the Indigo Girls’ last two LPs without a little help from the internet, but I can tell you the name of my favorite Indigo Girls song (“Dead Man’s Hill”), the title of the last Indigo Girls album I purchased in a Best Buy (Become You), and the last time I saw them play live (The Peace Center, Greenville, South Carolina). I picked up One Lost Day for review more out of a sense of rooted nostalgia than true curiosity -- so it goes. I’m trading in the realm of honesty because it’s one of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray’s key songwriting components. The Indigo Girls are nothing if not honest, true, and talented songwriters, and skipping the excellence of One Lost Day, their latest LP, would be a true shame.
In 2014, Amy Ray put out one of the best and most authentic country albums of that year, Goodnight Tender, which included a host of well-known players, including Justin Vernon, Susan Tedeschi, and Heather McEntire (Mount Moriah). Those connections string through into One Lost Day and have added an element of production sharpness and exacting instrumentation. “Happy In the Sorrow Key” and “The Rise of the Black Messiah” are the most freewheeling tunes on the LP, both of them written by Ray, who tilts her songwriting pen more towards grit and protest, and history and modernity. Where “Happy In the Sorrow Key” is close to being the lone rocker of the bunch (“Olympia Inn”, another Ray tune, clocks in a close second), “The Rise of Black Messiah”, skips that honor only because it reigns supreme as a greater protest song than a “rocker.”
But when it comes to protest songs, especially songs about the deep racial divide that still pervades America, you want your message to be a little louder than usual. Another Ray tune that bears a mark of punk-inspired stomp is “Fishtails”, which moves hand-in-hand toward the back of the LP with Saliers’ “Findlay, Ohio 1968”. As a pair, the two songs showcase what the women's distinct personalities can do when joined together; create a side A and a side B that work together seamlessly, just like the exquisite harmonies for which they’re known.
Saliers is no slouch on One Lost Day, either. Not that she’s ever been such, of course; she’s just always been the more introspective, folk-inspired of the two. Her songs, including “Alberta”, “Learned It On Me”, and “Southern California is Your Girlfriend”, are especially reflective on past relationships, even by Saliers’ standards. “It’s not like you were trying to elude me / you just had your plans and they didn’t include me,” she sings gracefully on “Southern California is Your Girlfriend”.
Elsewhere, album opener “Elizabeth” builds its chorus around a memory stained with sweetness, "Elizabeth / The last I heard / You were in Savannah / You got married after art school / Happily.” In lesser hands, reflections like these would falter under their own earnestness, but the Inidigo Girls have traded in genuine observation and reflection for so long that they’ve honed it down to an art form. Better than a memoir and more succinct than a confessional, Saliers' and Ray’s tracks have the type of sincerity that is lacking from many contemporary singer-songwriters, most of whom couch their reflections in deep metaphor or indirectness.
“Texas Was Clean”, the centerpiece of One Lost Day, is the true standout here: it's a tune built around stark imagery, a divergent chorus, and expert fingerpicking that lingers with a certain sadness after it’s ended.
One Lost Day isn’t made up entirely of sadness. Despite its occasional production flourishes -- an electronic beat here, a prominent bassline there -- the Indigo Girls are still top in their genre doing what they do best. The record is filled with places as titles, areas of memory, both physical and metaphorical, and regions that Saliers and Ray have traversed over thousands of tour dates. They’ve always had a front row view to the inner workings of America in their line of work, and One Lost Day sounds like their homage to the ground we’ve covered and the miles we still have to go.