Those who preferred the Indigo Girls' second, acoustic disc in 2009's double Poseidon & the Bitter Bug will find themselves instantly comfortable with the material on Beauty Queen Sister. The album represents a reunion of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers with producer Peter Collins, who helmed Swamp Ophelia and Rites of Passage. Its musical meld of contemporary folk, country-ish sounds, and aching harmonies are the pair's trademark. "Share the Moon" starts things out with a gorgeous bassline by Frank Swart and Carol Isaacs' Wurlitzer and B-3 introducing Ray's voice and Luke Bulla's violin; they offer a heartbreaking love song, and the music and tempo never rise above a simmer because the grain of Ray's voice carries the weight. Ray also wrote the title track, which swaggers just a bit, with the pair playing electric guitars above the rhythm section (which includes drummer Brady Blade) and the Shadow Boxers' soulful, backing vocals, but moves back to the acoustic shimmer in Saliers' beautiful "We Got to Feel It All." The Indigo Girls' topical songs are, as usual, also present, though they aren't anthemic. Saliers' environmentally conscious "John" and her sense of the present in the midst of social and political turmoil in "Feed and Water the Horses" are folk and roots country reflections, while Ray's "War Rugs" offers a pronounced, folk-ish empathy for military women and men who've seen combat duty. The love songs stand out, too: Saliers' "Gone," with its banjo and ringing upright piano, is an open road hymn to leaving busted love behind with lessons learned. Her skeletal "Birthday Song" is striking in its searing emotional revelations. The Cajun-styled shuffle, "Making Promises," is an ode to complexities in love and sobriety. The closest we get to an anthem is in Ray's "Damo," a Celtic-tinged elegy for Ireland. Saliers' "Able to Sing" is a catchy little folk-rocker with soaring choruses. Album-closer "Yoke" is another broken love song with a minimal, hypnotic Bulla violin line that repeats throughout, like something from a Philip Glass composition, but the song is so melodic, slow, and pathos-laden, it's among the most striking things here. Beauty Queen Sister showcases the Indigo Girls in top traditional form; their audience will no doubt delight in this, especially because the songs are expertly crafted and, as usual, intimate and honest to the point of discomfort.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek