Indigo Girls – Rarities (2005)
They don’t get as much attention as they used to, but I think that’s more a function of short attention spans than a drop in the quality of their material — the Indigo Girls have simply been around for so long, and released so many dependably solid albums, that they’ve been sort of forgotten. Give them another ten years, and they’ll be riding a wave of nostalgic career revival; now, though, they’re releasing this collection of leftovers to close out their 16-year relationship with Epic Records.
Of course, I’m one of those who has forgotten the Indigos — between Swamp Ophelia in 1994 and All That We Let In last year, I don’t think I listened to anything they put out. But listening to Rarities, I was tempted to go and pull out my copies of Come On Now Social or Shaming of the Sun or whatever else they’ve released over the last ten years. Not that Rarities is what you’d call great — it’s a bunch of stuff that didn’t make it onto their other albums, after all — but most bands, even pulling from over 20 years of history, wouldn’t be able to cobble together this many decent odds & sods (even taking into account the occasional cover or remix). The Indigo Girls are like your mom’s van: Not very exciting, but surprisingly well-made.
Michelle Shocked – Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (2005)
And then there’s an artist like Michelle Shocked, who shows you that sometimes, what you gain in a willingness to venture out on long artistic limbs, you lose in overall quality. Michelle Shocked is an enormous songwriting talent, and her restless muse has led fans on an endlessly changing journey for nearly two decades now, from the stripped-down folk of her debut to the rich modern soul of 2002’s Deep Natural. Her dabbling is usually done with an alarming degree of skill, which makes Don’t Ask Don’t Tell such an unpleasant surprise. The album isn’t a genre exercise, just straight-ahead roots rock, so you’d think the odds of success would be higher; then again, maybe she wasn’t interested enough in what she was doing to really make it work. Whatever the reason, this is a diffuse, inchoate set of songs, one that has the occasional charming moment but never quite comes together. And then there are songs like “Don’t Ask” — so painful that they verge on the unlistenable.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is part of a three-album set also consisting of Mexican Standoff and Got No Strings; of the two, the latter — a collection of reinterpreted Disney tunes — sounds most interesting. Maybe I’ll trade in my copy of Don’t Ask for it.
David Mead – Wherever You Are (2005)
Our third stop in this week’s listening booth is a lesbian trapped in a man’s body — stellar pop tunesmith David Mead. Wherever You Are is a six-song EP consisting of songs intended for Mead’s aborted third album for RCA, and it’s great. Given the amount of filler in many current releases, maybe more artists should have their albums rejected and then picked through this way. My only beef is that Wherever’s release probably means it’s going to be another six months to a year before Mead puts out anything else. But hey, don’t take my word for it; listen to the title track and then GO BUY THIS NOW.