It cut like a knife through the radio airwaves. The driving beat with acoustic and electric guitars going full tilt. Still, you kept coming back to that voice. It was harsh and powerful yet had a plaintive, desperate quality. Was it some long lost classic or had Humble Pie re-grouped, and just by chance, recorded the best thing of their career? No, it was "Bring Me Some Water" from Melissa Etheridge's self-titled debut.
Fast-forward twelve years. Melissa, her significant other, Julie (mom) Cypher, the couple's child, Bailey Jean and the biological dad, ex-Byrd, the "C" of CSN and sometimes Y, David Crosby were featured on the cover of "People" magazine. Sure, there were a flood of jokes about this brave, new extended family. Like, "how did Crosby manage to get this, the best gig of his career?" From Crosby's bemused smile it seemed he'd heard a few of the lines already.
Etheridge got her first guitar at age eight and soon began writing songs. By eleven, she was performing in local talent shows. Busting out of her native Leavenworth, Kansas, at age eighteen, she attend the Berklee College of Music in Bean Town (Boston) before heading to L.A. Along the way Etheridge found her Blues/Rock style. A demo got in front of the right people and she was signed by Island Records.
Etheridge has created incredible Blues soaked Rock. From "Yes I Am" there's the slow driving "I Am The Only One." The guitar chugs along with Etheridge providing slow burning vocals until consumed by raw emotion. In her best songs, Etheridge's voice, with an undeniable urgency, draws you in. There's a craving that reaches fulfillment (or resignation) by the song's end.
Still, Etheridge's non-musical activities garnered a huge amount of press complete with news her relationship with Cypher had hit the skids. And that's the way it goes sometimes. Even though Etheridge has sold over 25 million albums more people have heard of her than have heard her. Married to Tammy Lynn Michaels in '03, Etheridge joked that she was behaving like a typical Rock star by hooking up with a far younger actress. Six months later she released her "Lucky" CD.
Performers often change their trajectory. But sometimes outside forces act upon them. In '04, while Etheridge was on tour she noticed a lump on her breast. She was soon diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. As a result, Etheridge underwent a full mastectomy followed by chemotherapy.
It was at the '05 Grammys where Etheridge made her public comeback performing a cover of Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart." The audience roared their appreciation and approval.
"Every day someone comes up to me and says something about that performance," said Etheridge. "When people hear you have breast cancer, they tend to write you off."
A cancer-free Etheridge made the rounds on T.V. morning shows including "Good Morning America's" Women Rule Concert Series where she told her story and promoted her greatest hits CD, "The Road Less Traveled." During her Times Square appearance she sang "Come To My Window" and a song dedicated to fellow cancer survivors "I Run For Life." Royalties went to breast cancer charities.
Switching gears, Etheridge turned her attention to the environment. She wrote the song "I Need To Wake Up" for former vice-president Al Gore's documentary film An Inconvenient Truth. The track won an '06 Academy Award for Best Original Song. Then came '07's "Awakening" album.
Etheridge performed at the '08 Democratic Convention in Denver and at Live Earth in New York (at Giants Stadium), a follow-up to her An Inconvenient Truth efforts. Less than two years later (April, '10), her 11th studio album, "Fearless Love," dropped.
In February, '11, Etheridge did a week long stint as St. Jimmy in Green Day's hit Broadway musical, American Idiot.
To promote "Fearless Love," Etheridge performed the title track and "Come To My Window" on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." And later in '11, Etheridge received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Located at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard, it was the 2,450th star awarded.
"4th Street Feeling" dropped in '12. The album was named after a street in her hometown (Leavenworth).
1988: Melissa Etheridge
1989: Brave and Crazy
1992: Never Enough
1993: Yes I Am
1995: Your Little Secret
2005: Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled
2007: The Awakening
2008: A New Thought For Christmas
2010: Fearless Love
2012: 4th Street Feeling
Off her self-titled debut album "Bring Me Some Water" is an emotionally explosive song and stands as her best. Her next two albums "Brave and Crazy" and "Never Enough" fail to match up. However "Yes I Am," released in '93, is Etheridge's strongest "outing" with the smoldering "I Am The Only One" and the plaintive "Come To My Window." The follow-up "Your Little Secret" shows her still in top form with "I Want To Come Over."
After an extended break from the road, Etheridge's sixth CD "Breakdown," arrived in '99. "Angels Will Fall," a dreamy Rock ballad, broke as a single. Still, the CD has a raw and gritty feeling that is Etheridge's signature sound. "Truth Of The Heart" and "Into the Dark" are outstanding tracks.
Generally, retro album covers are not a good sign. It usually means a pale imitation of a bygone era. With a collage of a spaceman, horse (every young girl's favorite) and a 1950's sci-fi rocket on the cover one might assume "Lucky" takes a trip back to Rock's birth or its Country/R&B roots. And while this album does look back, it's Etheridge's past that is evoked. The title track, a good Rock tune, playing on Etheridge's known strengths is a solid, if safe, start. But the laborious and forgettable "This Moment" with the embarrassing line "I am watching you sleep" nearly derails the LP before it has a chance to get rolling. There's a thin line between heartfelt and maudlin drivel. The album picks up with "If You Want To" where Etheridge spits out the lyrics with urgency and force and "Secret Agent" led by a big fat rumbling bass. Still, this is a standard Etheridge effort until the appearance of "Come On Out Tonight" which is loose fun and "Tuesday Morning." Both songs have a fresh approach and Etheridge rises to the occasion.
"Awakening" is an honest, revealing and reflective collection. While the album alternates between ballads and comfortable mid-tempo tracks, Etheridge vaults from pure escapism ("California") to Gospel ("God Is In The People"). If there is a theme it's of universal love. In "All We Can Really Do" concludes we can only love one another. "An Unexpected Rain" turns confessional as Etheridge sings "I'm just a singer looking for a song." The self-referential and life-affirming single, "Message To Myself," is Etheridge at her most accessible and appealing.
There is no doubting her passion or commitment whether it's for gay rights, the elimination of breast cancer or the environment. Put a tough guitar, bass and drums behind Etheridge and it can't fail. "Fearless Love" is no exception as the title track, "Drag Me Away" and "Nervous," a Rockabilly Boogie, clearly illustrate.
"Miss California," another exceptional track, bemoans the roll-back of gay rights in California by addressing the state as a wanton love. Etheridge can get overly dramatic at times ("Heaven On Earth") but her intense and yearning vocals make the ballads moving, and real, experiences.
Looking back is always a challenge. A trunk load of memories are countered by the knowledge the clock is winding down. Usually, the best place to start is at the beginning.
Etheridge uses her hometown as a touchstone on "4th Street Feeling," a thoughtful yet unpretentious set.
The title track, which references the days when all Etheridge's worldly possession could be tossed "in my Chevrolet," the Country leaning "Falling Up," "Shout Now," a fuzzy Blues Rock track and "The Shadow Of The Crow," with the line "die fast rather than live slow," tap the exuberance yet uncertainty of youth. "Be Real," the dramatic "A Disaster" and the down and dirty "Sympathy" reflect on life's challenges and disappointments. The set closes with "Rock And Roll Me," a song that seems to ponder the original meaning of "rock and roll."