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Indigo Girls don't stray far from its musical start

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By Rege Behe
Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

The Indigo Girls' Amy Ray laughs when asked whether she's John Lennon to Emily Saliers' Paul McCartney.

"I wish," Ray says in advance of the Indigo Girls' concert Friday at the Byham Theater, Downtown, noting the folly of comparing any musician to the Beatles. "I wish we were close to the Beatles. But yeah, she's more of a pop writer and more musical in a lot of ways. And I'm more, well, whatever ..."

Ray is hesitant to quantify her contributions. Musically, she's the more experimental Indigo Girl, the one more inclined to stray from the folkie baseline the duo established starting in the late '80s with the single "Closer to Fine," and followed in the songs "Galileo," "Hammer and Nail" and "Least Complicated." On the duo's new release, "Beauty Queen Sister," Ray's songs, especially "Share the Moon" and "Mariner Moonlighting," are atmospheric, moody compositions.

"I have to give credit to the band for that," she says, noting the way bassist Frank Swart shapes "Share the Moon," the mesmerizing opening track.

The music was recorded using digital equipment, but Ray says the other devices used were vintage or old gear. The backing players -- notably Alison Brown on banjo, and Luke Bulla on violin and mandolin -- give "Beauty Queen Sister" an expansive, engaging warmth.

"There are lots of organic instruments, but the players are of a certain ilk that have that sonic quality to them," she says, also noting the contributions of recording engineer Trina Shoemaker and producer Peter Collins. "The violin player we used (Bulla, who has performed with Lyle Lovett and is a member of W.P.A.), he plays high, but he has a lot of low overtones. We used a lot of vibes and marimba, and instruments that have a lot of low things going on underneath everything. There's a lot happening in there under the surface providing that quality to it."

The duo's inherent yin-and-yang musicality is a boon to their collaborations. Ray figured out early on that she works best on her own, focusing on her strengths and not "trying to be as good as Emily and what Emily does," she says. "And that's what keeps us interested."

Ray also thinks she benefits from making solo records. Her material is more in the vein of the Replacements or Social Distortion than the mellow folk vibe of the Indigo Girls.

"It was me wanting to collaborate with some of the punk bands I know and are fans of and are friends of mine," she says. "And it turned into something that was fun, something that had more impact on me than I thought it was going to have."

Additional Information:

Indigo Girls

With: Lucy Wainwright Roche

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Admission: $33.50-$43.50

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown

Details: 412-556-6666 or

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