Picks and Pans Review: Rites of Passage

updated 07/06/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/06/1992 01:00AM

Indigo Girls

On their fifth album, these folkie femmes add a few jolts of brandy and a dollop of whipped cream to their coffeehouse style. A song like "Ghost" begins with Amy Ray and Emily Saliers' familiar foundation of spare vocal and acoustic guitar, then suddenly the mix is rife with drums, percussion, piano, electric guitar, bass and strings. Whoa! Somebody spiked the Java.

Working with producer Peter Collins, known primarily as a specialist in metal bands like Queensryche, the Indigos have fashioned a richer and more exotic sound with songs that build in intensity. Did you ever think you'd hear an Indigo Girls album that boasted a succession of drummers like Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, et al.), Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Kenny Aronoff (formerly with John Mellencamp)?

The deeper texture is apparent from the opener, "Three Hits," featuring Irish uileann pipes, bouzouki (a Greek lute) and fiddle (the last played by Mellencamp violinist Lisa Cermano). The most striking and imaginative arrangement is the one created for Saliers' "Virginia Woolf," a tribute to the author that features the Roche sisters on background vocals. (Jackson Browne and David Crosby sing background on "Let It Be Me.")

For all its welcome embellishments, the album still strikes an unmistakable mood Indigo. In other words, you get the stirring harmonies, but you also get murky, compacted lyrics ("We talked about our mothers, kissed the wounds of our fathers/ I could've been your sister; I would've been your brother/ You kissed me like I was a soldier heading for war") and extremely uneven songwriting.

You can embellish and cappuccino-ize the Indigos—it helps, on the whole—but you still get the same sometimes endearing, sometimes infuriating mix of talent, torpor and pretension. (Epic)

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