The Indigo Girls move to Hollywood Records -- home of Los Lobos among others -- and do what they do best, but add some new shades and textures as well. For starters, there are no anthemic political statements here, unless you are willing to regard to the truly personal as political (an admirable stance in this crazy world). Secondly, Emily Saliers and Amy Ray really concentrate on hooks on Despite Our Differences. What the record reflects, with its gorgeous blend of acoustic guitars, slippery snare drums and cymbals, and the painterly use of electric guitars and keyboards, is a relaxed, moving, and utterly poetic offering. For many, the Indigo Girls have become a fixture, much like R.E.M., whose albums would come out year by year and blur into one another. It wasn't a rut so much as an attempt to do what they patented best. Despite Our Differences is actually different. Produced by Mitchell Froom, there is a new hunger in these tracks; there is no desperation, but a confident excitement about the craft and construction of songs that weave themselves into an album. Sure, "Pendulum Swinger" is an overtly political song, but it comes not solely from an ideology, but from a heart, wounded and ready for a culture war that can only occur with the guidance of love, collective, cultural, and personal. The comments about Hillary Rodham Clinton and others are offered in a way we haven't heard before from Saliers. But it's in the second track that the album really begins. Ray's "Little Perennials," an acoustic rocker, talks about the place of loneliness that's been accepted as the norm, and experiences connection as a ray of light. Saliers answers with "I Believe in Love," where the ending of a relationship reveals possibilities for reconciliation and self-discovery: "I want to say that underneath it all that you are my friend...the way I fell for you, I will never fall that way again/And I still believe that despite our differences, what we have's enough/I believe in you and I believe in love." The rock & roll journeys that the Indigo Girls make on this album -- with Claire Kenney on bass, Froom on keyboards, Matt Chamberlain on drums, and guests who include both Pink and Brandi Carlile, and pedal steel master Greg Leisz -- are rooted deeply in the notion that personal brokenness leads to growth, possibility, love, and awakening. Forgive the new age language, but this strain of rock has been veined since the Laurel Canyon scene of the early '70s. And while the California sound ended up in despair and hedonism by way of some of its more famous practitioners, these two Southern songwriters come from the land to seek renewal from disaster, resurrection from death. Seasons get observed as metaphors for human interaction on Ray's "Three County Highway." Saliers' "Run" is one of the most beautiful vocal performances the two have ever put on tape. Ray's "Rock and Roll Heaven's Gate" (with Pink's gritty backing vocal) also reveals that she is one hell of a guitar player. This is the roar that has been suggested but never spoken. Her guitaritstry has never been celebrated, but from now on it should be, and she should never hide it again. It rocks hard and swaggers and states without irony: "I'm free to be a loser . . " The album ends on "Last Tear," a track that doesn't appear to fit musically being a shimmering country weeper, but at the same time, the lyrics speak to what's about to happen in the transition from true heartache -- one that could only have come from a worked out hope exhausting itself into brokenness and resignation -- into the acknowledgement of resolve and toward the place where sadness gives way to healing and the treasure one finds in the depths alone. The question then becomes what can we expect now from the Indigo Girls? Everything. There is no commercial slant on this music, but it's more relevant than anyone dared expect. It's accessible and moving and true. It's their own brand of rock & roll, hewn from over the years, that bears a signature that is now indelible.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
feat: Brandi Carlile