In a world of rap, disco, and rock, sensitive acoustic singer-songwriters offer an oasis to tired ears. But while beautiful harmonies and meaningful lyrics give the genre broad commercial appeal, painfully self-conscious songwriting makes the Indigo Girls’ popularity outside of liberal arts dormitories a bit puzzling.
Compared to the grim sophomoric clichés of the Georgia duo’s self-titled 1989 breakthrough album, Nomads*Indians*Saints is relatively temperate and thoughtful. Although the undergraduate angst still hangs heavy, Emily Saliers’ songwriting shows lyrical and melodic improvement. She hasn’t outgrown such tortured similes as ”Thought I knew my mind like the back of my hand,” but the album’s two out-and-out charmers — the upbeat ”Hammer and a Nail” and the warmly graceful ”Southland in the Springtime” — both belong to her. Amy Ray’s contributions (including the dreadful ”1 2 3,” which sounds like a misguided Patti Smith tribute) remain abrasively serious and overemotional.
With returning producer Scott Litt tastefully guiding a strong studio ensemble into a smooth supporting role, the arrangements vary from spartan to luxurious. Regardless of the setting, the magical sound of two harmonious voices remains the Indigo Girls’ greatest virtue. C+