No real surprises on this, the Indigo Girls‘ 10th studio release, but that’s OK. Occasional tweakings of their sound (and occasional lapses) aside, Emily Saliers and Amy Ray have put together a pretty solid catalog over the years, and All That We Let In fits in quite comfortably with the rest of their work. Saliers and Ray sing together as well as anyone on record, and when the material’s up to snuff, they can’t be beat. By this point, though, you have a pretty fair idea what you’re going to get out of the Indigo Girls.
The sound this time around is surprisingly warm (even for a group with such crazy-good harmonies). If there’s one word to describe All That We Let In, it’s probably “comfortable”; even with some of the serious subject matter the pair tackle, All That We Let In is an inviting album. Out of the gate, Carol Isaac’s organ playing sets the mood with nice, gentle tones on “Fill It Up Again” and the bouncy ska vibe of “Heartache for Everyone” — in fact, she can be found adding flavor to most of the record, especially the evocative organ intros to “Tether” and “Cordova” (in general, two of the Indigo Girls’ strongest songs in a while).
This being an election year and with the global scene being what it is, you’d expect Saliers and Ray to come out with guns blazing, but instead they focus largely on the equally uncertain ground of personal relationships. It’s a good move, as songs on a personal scale have always been one of their strengths. Still, there’s plenty of room for a song like “Perfect World” to address the “myth of isolation” that implies our actions exist in a vacuum. The title track, in the midst of celebrating the power of love, takes a quick swipe at George W. Bush.
“Cordova” and “Tether” both stretch tentative fingers toward a larger world view, and are two of the album’s strongest songs. “Tether” comes in on broad, sepulchral organ tones, allowing guitar with a slight snarl to wind its way in before the songs breaks into a full band stomp (with strong vocal help from Joan Osborne, who also chips in elsewhere on the disc). Lyrically, it questions the current state of affairs with an ambivalence befitting the uncertainties around us: “Can we make it better / Do we tether the hawk, Do we tether the dove?” “Cordova” begins similarly, on a soft bed of organ, but becomes even more delicate with the addition of a fragile piano melody. “Cordova” pulls off the delicate task of weaving images of relationships and revolution — easily the record’s most seamless meeting of the two worlds.
Those threads of social consciousness, though, share equal footing with the little things. One of the title track’s most evocative images is that of simply coming home to someone cooking supper. The defining thought of “Dairy Queen” is that “the love you gave was not for free / But the price was truly fair”. In “Heartache for Everyone”, Ray sings, “I’ll give you six more weeks baby just in case / You can change your mind, you won’t be replaced”. It’s those types of sentiments that characterize the record and define its personality.
As such, All That We Let In isn’t an earth-shaking album — it doesn’t even shake up the Indigo Girls catalog. But it’s certainly a comfortable continuation of the band’s work, and shouldn’t lose any of its appeal over time.