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Indigo Girls celebrate new holiday album, long partnership

Melissa Ruggieri

It's really about time the Indigo Girls tackled a holiday record.

Given that their 25-year career has spawned a dozen studio albums, plus live offerings and the requisite collections of their best-known songs, it's actually a bit surprising that it took the duo of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray this long to move into "O Holy Night" territory.

But fans should find "Holly Happy Days," released in October, worth the wait.

"(Amy and I) were simpatico about the direction we wanted (the album) to take," Saliers said. "I made my list of songs and she made hers and we cross-referenced. We have such a good way of working things out democratically."

Hanging out in her manager's Atlanta office, the low-key Saliers, clad in beige cargo pants and a green sweatshirt, thoughtfully discussed the making of the album.

Unlike many pop-star seasonal releases, "Holly" concentrates on unconventional choices, such as "In the Bleak Midwinter" — the favorite hymn of both women's mothers — Woody Guthrie's "Happy Joyous Hanukkah" (featuring Janis Ian and Mary Gautier) and Chely Wright's "It Really Is (a Wonderful Life)."

"We knew we wanted to do some originals and a Hanukkah song, and my dad brought us 'Peace Child' and played piano on the track," Saliers said.

Many of the songs sport a bluegrass feel, in keeping with the Girls' rootsy ambitions. "I Feel the Christmas Spirit" dashes along with a sprightly banjo backdrop (provided by Alison Brown), while Ray's "The Wonder Song" is a happy hootenanny (she also penned "Mistletoe" and Saliers contributed the mellifluous "Your Holiday Song").

The process of choosing tunes and recording them this summer with producer Peter Collins and top-drawer musicians, including Lloyd Maines on dobro and pedal steel guitar and Victor Krauss on bass, was exceptionally rewarding, Saliers said.

"It was such a sweet little studio in Nashville, a real home-feeling studio, and it was so inspiring to work with those players."

Post-holidays, the Indigo Girls already are booked.

Ray is wrapping her fourth solo album, while Saliers, who owns the Southern-dining restaurant Watershed near Atlanta, is collaborating on songs for an upcoming independent film.

Though the duo will head to Australia in April for a short tour and plan to return to the studio — likely again in Nashville — in May for a new Indigo Girls record, it's their time apart that helps keep their partnership sturdy.

"Because Amy has her solo stuff and I have various other projects, it's not like all the eggs are in one basket," Saliers said. "The only thing that would slow us down is that Amy is planning a family, so there would be more time to carve out for home life. But being in the Indigo Girls is still fun, it's still gratifying. We're old friends and have a great relationship."