lifeblood: songs: backgrounds: able to sing

2012-08-27: q&a: emily saliers, theater jones performing arts news

you have used symphonic instruments in a number of recordings, such as the intro to the song "virginia woolf." how did you decide which songs to arrange for orchestra?

there were a couple of amy's songs that she wanted to do that she changed her mind about. there's a song, "compromise," a short rock song, it was really going out on a limb with the arrangement, which was awesome, but didn't work out. for me, there were some songs that would have been obvious choices, and i tried to avoid those for the most part. except for the song "ghost." in fact, michael kamen, who has passed, did arrangements on the record for "ghost," and stephen did an homage to michael's work there, which was very powerful.

there's a new song from beauty queen sister, called "able to sing," that was an odd choice, but it's a beautiful arrangement. the agency wanted "closer to fine" and "galileo" in there, a couple of well-known songs. if they hadn't asked for those, i wouldn't have chosen them because it's more fun to do the obscure songs.


2013-01-17: indigo girls partner with tso on saturday, the america's intelligence wire

the indigo girls were introduced to performing with an orchestra 10 years ago when they did a show with the atlanta ballet.

"the whole program was choreographed to our songs. it was very cool, and part of it was that we played with the ballet symphony," ray recalled. "we got to experience somewhat the symphonic perspective of our music. but it was not that many songs, so compared to what we're doing now it feels kind of like night and day. and it was a very small orchestra."

the folk-rock duo, who have been together going on nearly 30 years, tapped arrangers sean o'loughlin (chris isaak, feist, the decemberists, josh ritter) and stephen barber (rosanne cash, alejandro escovedo, john legend) to rework songs from their 14 career albums, including their most recent, 2011's "beauty queen sister." among the songs on the setlist for past concerts have been "world falls," "sugar tongue," "able to sing," "come on home," galileo" and "power of two."

"if there are songs that have countermelodies happening and third-part harmonies or fourth parts and different things that emily and i wouldn't cover if it's just me and her, we have other instruments covering that now," ray said of the symphony arrangements. "so it brings out these voices that are going on in the song in our heads when we sing them alone. ... it's a deeper experience."

"it's just a challenge and really, really fun and exciting," ray added. "and there's a feeling in the room that anything can happen for good or bad, i guess."


2013-01-17: indigo girls seek harmony with tucson symphony, the tucson sentinel

the set list includes favorites like "galileo" and "closer to fine," as well as selections from their extensive catalog.

"amy picked her songs and i picked mine," saliers says. "an obvious one that i picked was 'ghosts,' which had a string arrangement on the record. 'able to sing' off our latest record (beauty queen sister), was kind of a busy, crazy song lyrically with lots of movement and syncopation, and i was really curious what it would sound like orchestrated.

"then a song like 'mystery,' i knew having a great string arrangement would lift that song to a special place. a song of amy's, 'compromise,' which is almost a punk rock song, very short and very driving, turned out great, but it wouldn't have been an obvious choice. her songs are as dynamic and rocking as ever with the orchestra behind them."


2013-05-16: emily saliers is psyched about pridefest, the wisconsin gazette

"able to sing" is a song about a wedding. have you written - or been asked to write - for same-sex weddings?

yes, i have! two of my very best friends got married a couple of years ago. i wrote a song for their wedding. it was a beautiful experience. i'm going to record it and give them a special copy. i've written songs for straight weddings as well, but that was really special, because they were my friends and it was very easy to access imagery knowing their history. "able to sing" has a lot going on in it. it's about the wedding, but it was really inspired by the death of all the red-winged blackbirds on the fourth of july, and the ensuing dialogue between scientists and people of faith - and how people want to explain bizarre things that happen. that got me thinking about the fourth of july and patriotism and blood and faith and all kinds of stuff. i was really on a roll with that one. it's one of my favorites on the record, if not my very favorite.


2014-01-10: indigo girls bring folk rock to pantages, the tacoma news tribune:

from their first years playing together in a georgia high school to the past decade releasing four albums on their own label ig recordings, amy ray and emily saliers have forged a strong partnership. as with their earlier recordings, "beauty queen sister" tells stories both of days gone by and current events like the egypt revolution ("war rugs," featuring vocals by lucy wainwright roche, who'll also open for them at the tacoma concert) and the threats to arkansas red-winged blackbirds ("able to sing," with inspirations from the old english folksong "sing a song of sixpence.") ray and saliers bring a full band on tour with them, but keep their signature style of open nashville guitar sound, clean rock drums and close harmonies.


2014-05-20: the indigo girls' emily saliers on parenthood, mary j. blige and naps, american songwriter:

in "able to sing," from 2011's beauty queen sister, the indigo girls' most recent studio record, saliers mixes metaphors and current events, something she's long been wont to do. the lyrics meld references to the star-spangled banner and a mysterious blackbird die-off she heard about in the news with allusions to nursery rhymes, in particular the one about "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie."

"i would think someone listening to that song for the first time would say, 'what the hell?'" she says. "i'll start off by saying i have always had an affinity for birds, and i was looking at this terrible clashing of humanity and the natural world. faith groups were seeing the die-off apocalyptically even as scientists were trying to explain it in their terms."

exploring that tension between religion and science, saliers kept physicist stephen hawking in mind when she wrote this portion of "able to sing: "in the book of steven there is no prophecy/'cause there was no need for god in the way things came to be/some live by faith, some live by proof/they don't meet up on a friendly road or live under the same roof."


2014-07-05: joan baez, indigo girls provide a blast from the past at santa barbara bowl, noozhawk:

from their latest album were the songs "share the moon" and "able to sing," which saliers introduced by saying that she wrote it after a mysterious red-winged blackbird die-off on the fourth of july a few years ago, which got her thinking about children's nursery rhymes like the one about the birds in the pie.

"it's real depressing, but it's kind of up-tempo," she said to laughs.

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