The first Indigo Girls CD I ever bought was Swamp Ophelia. After having heard "Least Complicated" on my local adult alternative station, I finally discovered what a lot of people around me knew already. The Indigos were, and are, a sweet, sweet thing to listen to, interweaving harmonies and guitar parts in a musical whole.
Later on, I bought other CDs, and discovered the difference
Swamp Ophelia. It's a lusher CD than much of their work, and
that difference has to be taken into account when considering it.
If your preferred version of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers is the
bright and acoustic sound of "Closer To Fine" or "Galileo,"
Swamp Ophelia is going to be rich in some spots, creme brulee after a diet of vanilla wafers. Sometimes the richness is a tasty aperitif, sometimes it cloys a bit.
The CD kicks off with "Fugitive," a track that I've never really bothered to develop much of an opinion about -- mostly because it soon swings into one of my favorite songs of all times, the bittersweet and elegant "Least Complicated." If there is a "Closer To Fine" on Swamp Ophelia, this is it, chiming guitars and layered vocals like a breath of cool water.
"Least Complicated" is one of the few respites, though, because after that, the complexity kicks in. Rich, haunting piano tinges "Language Or The Kiss" with melancholy, the Roches provide solid background vocals on "Reunion", and full string and woodwind sections adds depth to "The Wood Song." Even the simple lyrics of "Power of Two," one of the prettiest love songs I've ever heard, is enriched by horn and mandolin.
These are all wonderful. Some other tracks, though, don't work as well, most notably the harsh "Touch Me Fall" and the thin "Fare Thee Well." (To be fair, "Fare Thee Well" might have worked on a more spare and sparse album. Here, it's just lost in the shuffle, the fruit cup at an otherwise calorie-laden dessert buffet.)
For those who expect the Indigos to rock out occasionally, there's very little to chew on in Swamp Ophelia's track list. There are only three songs with a rock element at all. Of those only one, the shocking Holocaust-themed "This Train Revised," has the grit and the power to stand up on its own merit.
Swamp Ophelia is an experiment, a softer side of the Indigo Girls that they would shatter firmly with the release of Shaming Of The Sun in 1997. Taken as such, it's an interesting look at the potential in the musical chemistry of Ray and Saliers, and is definitely worth a listen despite its flaws.
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