BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
You might not expect the ringtone on Emily Saliers’ cellphone to be the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.”
But for someone who has maintained a steady 30-plus-year career with the Indigo Girls, Saliers still manages to surprise.
On Friday, the silky-voiced singer-songwriter-guitarist will unveil “Murmuration Nation,” her debut solo album and one that she’s talked about doing for years.
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“It’s finally here. I can’t believe it. And I like it!” Saliers said with a grin earlier this week as she chatted at Dancing Goats Coffee Bar, a hangout near her Decatur home.
The 12-track album contains some vintage songs she’s never recorded — the tender “Match” was penned more than 15 years ago with onetime Sugarland members Kristen Hall — but the majority of the material was crafted in the past three years.
Saliers, 53, was finally spurred to shape her solo outing at the prompting of Lyris Hung, an electrifying violinist who has toured with the Indigo Girls for several years.
After Saliers began sending Hung snippets of song ideas — “not thinking anything about it,” she said — Hung started to produce even the smallest clip, which gave Saliers a fuller-formed idea of the musical landscape they could form.
“(Lyris) has a musical aptitude that’s very expansive,” Saliers said. “Everything she did in her studio was exactly what I wanted to feel for this music that I wanted to create on my own. Once I found Lyris (as a producer), she was the right one.”
The title of the album comes from the piano- and string-laden track “Fly,” an incisive song she wrote after the presidential election.
“I’ve always had a strong affinity for birds, especially blackbirds,” she said, noting that the new album’s artwork furthers that motif. “After the election, I was going through all of these things in my mind and the thought came to mind of the murmuration — which is a flock of starlings — the way people were coming together to work, without your typical power structures, and in response to political situations that they weren’t in favor of — the women’s march, the protests. They were all very peaceful and very fluid. All of these things to me were metaphorical.”
Lyrically, Saliers’ songs zigzag from the honeyed ballads that are her signature with the Indigo Girls to potent, highly rhythmic examinations of her frustration with the gun culture in America (“OK Corral”) and what she calls her “complicated relationship with Vietnam” (“Hello, Vietnam”).
“I can be very intense about things, but I also have a real need to be easy about things,” she said of the album’s seesawing statements.
“Murmuration Nation” also spotlights several guests, including Lucy Wainwright Roche, Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Nettles.
Saliers and Nettles go “way, way back” to the Eddie’s Attic days of fledgling careers (fun fact — a teenage Nettles once stood in line at a local record store to get her Indigo Girls album signed by the duo). Saliers originally pegged Nettles to sing background vocals on the funky “Long Haul,” but her part soon blossomed into a full-fledged duet.
“It was perfect,” Saliers said.
The album was recorded in 18 days at Reservoir Studios in New York — Saliers rented an Airbnb and walked there every day – and funded with the assistance of fans via Pledge Music.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Saliers said of the response. “I knew (Indigo partner) Amy (Ray) and I had great fans, but when you start to get more up close and personal, you realize how loving they are.”
Saliers will introduce her solo work at a pair of sold-out concerts at Eddie’s Attic on Thursday. But she’ll return for a bigger performance at Buckhead Theatre on Oct. 21 and, in the intervening time, return to the road with Ray for a series of Indigo Girls shows, including Sept. 27 with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall.
Her solo set lists, in addition to highlighting the new album, will also include Indigo Girls favorites such as “Closer to Fine” and “Galileo,” as well as a couple of cover tunes.
Saliers demurs with a laugh when asked to discuss which songs she plans to cover. She’d like to keep them a surprise.
7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Sold out. Eddie’s Attic, 515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur. 1-877-725-8849, www.eddiesattic.com.
With Lucy Wainwright Roche. $25-$40. 8 p.m. Oct. 21. Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
With Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27. Sold out. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.