Melodic Activism

With Me'Shell Ndegeocello and Sheryl Crow.

There's something for everyone on the latest from the Indigo Girls:

feminist anthems ("Go" [RealAudio excerpt]), acoustic heartachy ballads ("Soon Be To Nothing"), rocking singalongs ("Trouble"), gather-'round-the-campfire jams ("Gone Again") and angry diatribes ("Compromise"). The record is sort of like that old joke about weather in the Midwest — if you don't like it, just wait a minute and it'll change. But the constant on Come On Now Social is a steady hand with lyric and melody, with songs as lovingly crafted as a fine piece of heirloom furniture.

The duo's seventh album finds them in fine form, writing smart,

message-driven lyrics, playing the heck out of their respective guitars

and packing a passionate punch with their voices, both together and solo. Sinead O'Connor's backing band — along with her longtime producer, John Reynolds — provide able accompaniment. Appearances by top-notch players make the record a true social occasion, one that includes contributions from Joan Osborne (background vocals on "Go" and "Trouble"), Sheryl Crow ("Gone Again"), Me'Shell Ndegeocello (playing bass on "Compromise" and "We Are Together") and Luscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach.

Interspersed between some of the songs are snippets of dialogue. The

prelude to "Ozilline" (RealAudio excerpt) features singer Amy Ray's grandmother, Ozilline Walker, recalling a man she knew who "observed Saturday as the Sabbath" even though he didn't have a particular faith. "He didn't believe in any one thing," the woman says, before a banjo gradually drowns her out. The song is a tender reminiscence, with lines such as: "I had to put the dog down before I hit the road/ I watched that sweet old life become a bag of bones" proving the truth of the chorus "Oh Ozilline, I feel for you." Patient sorts will find a hidden bonus track after the last listed song, "Faye Tucker," fades away. After a spare reprise of the song "Sister," the pretty melody "Philosophy Of Loss" ruminates on the hypocrisy of organized religion.

There's a sense of immediacy about Come On Now Social that's rare. This is not to say that there aren't moments of cringe-worthy earnestness — for example: "And who would take out the Dominican Republic/ And send God's sweet children floating down a poison stream" (from "Trouble" [RealAudio excerpt]) — but it wouldn't be an Indigo Girls album without at least a few of those. And as long as the Girls keep harmonizing and retain the ability to make mundane images appear vivid ("Only two things bound to soothe my soul," Emily Saliers sings convincingly, "cold beer and remote control"), the advent of a new Indigo Girls album will be cause for celebration.