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25th September 2017

Record Reappraisal: Indigo Girls – Swamp Ophelia

Elizabeth Gibson looks beyond the hype to the quiet beauty of Indigo Girls’ fifth album

Those familiar with folk-rock duo Indigo Girls will be aware that their album Swamp Ophelia is a huge fan favourite. Released five years after their self-titled breakthrough record, Swamp Ophelia certainly catches the pair — Amy Ray and Emily Saliers — at a pivotal time in their career, and contains a remarkable number of their best-known hits.

The album opens with ‘Fugitive’, notable in part for being the source of lyrics tattooed on the chest of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. With a gloriously simple waltz-like rhythm and soaring, angsty vocals, this track sweeps the listener into a passionate and doomed relationship.

Another song with a waltz-like beat is ‘Reunion’. Like ‘Fugitive’, it was written by Amy Ray, and it reflects upon a school reunion she attended. Her attitude shifts from annoyance and confusion to acceptance and affection. There are then the darker Ray songs: ‘Touch Me Fall’, ‘Dead Man’s Hill’, and ‘This Train Revised’. All three are excellent, though a long way from light listening.

Emily Saliers provides six songs, which follow her trademark formula of gentle love song plus a touch of sass and humour. ‘Least Complicated’ is poppy and slickly-produced, while ‘The Wood Song’ builds up harmonies to reach an epic conclusion. The famous ‘Power of Two’ is essentially a lullaby and has a timeless kind of beauty.

Swamp Ophelia arrived in the world in 1994, making us the same age. I always felt something of a connection to it as a result, and with its range of styles and consistent quality, I really do recommend it.

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