At this point in their career—more than 20 years in and 14 studio albums out—the Indigo Girls have less of a stake in turning on new fans than they do in appeasing the existing ones. But even then, with a following as established as theirs and a musical formula that’s hardly been messed with in the last decade, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers really only have to worry about pleasing themselves on the new Beauty Queen Sister. “I have nothing to give, except for to live like the person you know me to be,” Saliers signs on the sweetly meditative track “Birthday Song.” It’s an appropriate acclamation for an album (really, a career) framed by take-it-or-leave-it sentiments.
Beauty Queen Sister —the Indigo Girls’ fourth independent release since they split from the majors—is an expectedly languid effort, graceful in parts and wrenching in others. A humble admiration aimed at the recent Egyptian revolution, “War Rugs” is a steadily paced, choked-up number backed by singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche (daughter of Loudon, half-sister of Rufus). There are missteps throughout the album as well. Romantic in a maternal sort of way, Beauty Queen can be pretty schmaltzy. “Feed And Water The Horses” is a metaphorical bore that seems to give up right around the Burning Man reference. “Gone” is a three-minute-long country-rock cliché that bewails (what else?) new love interests and a “lone drink of water in a pickup truck.” Emotional sappiness isn’t a new concept for the Indigo Girls. Unfortunately, neither is the rest of Beauty Queen.