Back On The Bus, Y'all

Indigo Girls

Epic Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The late '80s brought some of the best music in the acoustic vein of rock; one of these artists, Melissa Etheridge, was reviewed a few weeks ago here. The folkier side of this period, Georgia-based Indigo Girls, take the power of two six-string acoustic guitars and make them speak louder than you could imagine.

I saw them on tour for their third full-length album, Nomads Indians Saints (and, in a rare occurence in my career, turned into a stuttering dork when I got the chance to meet them), but I found myself disappointed that they were performing with a full band, including the Ellen James Society (are they still together?). But they could still make harmonies that brought tearas to my eyes.

Their first live release, Back On The Bus, Y'All, is a souvenir of that tour, and like the live show, it shines at times and disappoints at others. When I first bought this a few years ago, I hated it, and shoved it towards the back of the Pierce Memorial Archives (reservations required). But when I dug it out recently on a whim, I found out it wasn't a half-bad performance.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The CD opens with "1 2 3", a song written with and performed with members of the Ellen James Society. Never one of my favorite Indigo Girls tracks, the guest vocal from Chris McGuire is downright painful. (To add insult to injury, the disc is padded out with the studio version of the same song.) To McGuire's defense, I didn't know she was a backing vocalist on "Kid Fears" until I read the liner notes... though I will always remember Michael Stipe providing a companion vocal on this song.

The highlight of the disc is "Prince Of Darkness," a song from their self-titled major-label debut. The audience's providing the chorus at one point in the song (including the harmony, no less!) is powerful, as is the guitar and vocal work of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. (Trivia time: can anyone name the band that bassist Sara Lee played in before joining up with the Indigo Girls? Answer: The B-52's - she played on Cosmic Thing.)

A song which gains new life in live performance is "You And Me And The 10,000 Wars," a cut off of Nomads Indians Saints. Saliers's vocal is alluring yet haunting, and the track is carried to new levels they just couldn't reach in the sterility of the studio.

Of the remaining three songs, two are pretty but nothing special ("Tried To Be True," "Left Me A Fool") and one is a rather bland cover ("All Along The Watchtower"). The version of "Watchtower" sounds like it could have come from the same show the home video Live At Uptown Lounge was culled from. And while Back On The Bus, Y'All seems like it was an extra push for the at-the-time newer studio material, the Uptown Lounge concert would have provided for a better live album. (Better yet, couldn't the folks at Epic have filled this disc out with some of those cuts? At eight songs and just over 30 minutes, this is a rather sparse disc.)

The Indigo Girls would release another live album not ridiculously long after this mini-album, and seems to be the better choice for the "definitive" Indigo Girls live work. For the true fan, Back On The Bus, Y'All may serve as a picture of a folk duo beginning to hit the big time.

Rating: B

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.