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 Melissa Etheridge
"Rocking Her tears Away"


 
Two weeks before the album's July 10 release, Etheridge will open up even further with the release of her revealing, unflinching autobiography "The Truth Is ..." Etheridge sets the tone for Skin with the bristling first track, "Lover Please," which begins with a lazy guitar rhythm and static-y electronic percussion but quickly evolves into a stormy distorted rocker, climaxing with a bluesy talk-box guitar solo. As turbulent as the music is, the lyrics speak even louder: "Didn't I love you right?/ Then tell me where are you going dressed to kill tonight?/ Oh, this one's gonna hurt like hell." "That was the first new song I wrote," Etheridge told VH1's Rebecca Rankin recently at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York. "[It's about] coming to the realization that [my relationship] is over and the only choice left is to break away. All the begging and pleading and fear is in that song." The first single from Skin will be "I Want to Be in Love," a rootsy, melancholy song with a spare keyboard line, synths that glide like violins, and despairing vocals: "I have wrestled with my demons and woke up with only me/ Oh, I want to be in love." "I think if 'Lover Please' was released first, people might think, 'Oh, she's so angry,'" Etheridge explained. "So it's nice that I had 'I Want to Be in Love' [to release first]. I do believe in love. I know because it exists in me. I believe it can exist in me and another person in a healthy, together way." A video for "I Want to Be in Love," directed by David Hogan (Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow) and starring Jennifer Aniston, was shot last week in Los Angeles and will debut on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" the week of the album's release. "Jennifer was my friend long before she met Brad [Pitt], and she was a true fan of my music," Etheridge said. "I mean, she'll sit down and [compliment me], and it's almost embarrassing. So she understood my music, and the timing worked out right. It was truly our friendship, our mutual respect of music and the places that we've come to in our lives that allowed us to come together and create something." Although Skin contains obvious singles, Etheridge said the album is best absorbed as a full body of work. It's not exactly a concept record, but it does tell a story, chronicling the singer's recent feelings of betrayal ("Lover Please," "The Prison"), isolation ("Down to One," "Goodnight," "It's Only Me") and the realization that it's time to move on ("I Want to Be in Love," "Heal Me"). "Doing this record was a totally healing experience," she said. "People have asked me if I've maybe given away too much with it, but writing and performing music has always been the safest place for me. I grew up in an emotionally repressed environment where I couldn't put anything out, [and now] I can put out and receive emotion in this very safe place. This is probably the first time that the world knows exactly what I'm talking about, but that's the type of artist I am. I write from what I know." On past albums, Etheridge has worked with a variety of other musicians and producers, but for Skin she wanted the performances to be as personal as possible, so she played nearly all the instruments herself (guitar, harmonica, keyboard, mandolin) and produced the record with the help of David Cole (Richard Marx, Mariah Carey).


.....Her sandblasted powerhouse of a voice was as rafter-shaking as always, but the absence of a backing band rendered her less bombastic. Accompanying herself on guitar and baby grand piano and twice backed by recorded tracks, Etheridge made effective use of the entire stage. Her black leather flares and white shirt neatly contrasted with the exceptionally colorful, really quite beautiful set, with its shifting neoclassical columns of diaphanous, floaty fabric.
......Etheridge has never been the most staggeringly original songwriter; her earthy accounts of heartbreak, frustration, and more heartbreak rely too often on shopworn images and phrases, to an effect more workmanlike than poetic. But her emotional directness obviously speaks volumes. Drawing from her seven studio albums, Etheridge's most effective numbers were those fueled with overwhelming anguish and desire, such as "Come to my Window" and, especially, "I Want to Come Over," which fairly seethed with sexual longing.
......Perhaps it was a release of the tension we've all been feeling in recent days, or perhaps it was because she's reached a new, exalted level to her fans, but Melissa Etheridge's concert Friday night at the Paramount Theater generated electricity that never let up. The excitement was palpable, the adoration apparent throughout her seamless, two-hour solo performance before a near-capacity crowd. The passionate, spirited singer-songwriter recently released a tell-all autobiography, "The Truth Is," and a soul-baring album, "Skin," both of which deal with the very public split from her longtime lover, Julie Cypher (the mother of the couple's two children, fathered by David Crosby).
.... If it weren't for Etheridge's natural sense of humor and easygoing, intimate performing style - not to mention her well-crafted songs - it all might have been too much. But she balanced the heart-wrenching songs of loss and longing with plenty of upbeat, energizing ones, and used every opportunity to play around with and tease the audience about her new romantic availability. The mostly female crowd responded enthusiastically, at one point charging the aisles and cramming in front of the stage, reaching out to touch her.
..... Even though Etheridge is a well-established artist who's released seven albums and sold more than 25 million recordings, it was still risky for her to go on a solo tour with no opening act. It was all on her, but she seemed to revel in it. She switched from electric to acoustic guitars, and played grand piano on some songs. Using a neck brace, she played harmonica and guitar at the same time. The staging was smart and classy, using dramatic lighting patterns, flying scrims and variously-sized drapings of fabric to create different moods and performance areas on the big stage - which, she jokingly pointed out, was flexible and raked toward the audience,"The crew is betting on which song I'm going to fall flat on my face."
.....Etheridge might have needed a release, too, saying she'd been "holding back the tears" since the terrorist attacks. She told a story about New York City firefighters who, earlier in the tour, took the time to show her young son their fire engine. "I just got up the courage to call their firehouse and see what happened to those guys," she said. "And they're all safe." The crowd erupted in cheers. Etheridge played all of her popular songs, a few covers, and most of "Skin." She opened with one of her biggest hits, the sensuous "Come To My Window" and closed (before two encores) with her first one, 1988's "Bring Me Some Water." The crowd jumped to its feet for several songs, including "I Want to Come Over" and "I'm the Only One." In the long, satisfying set, the folksy, bluesy "The Prison" was a highlight, "Yes I Am" was exultant, "Please Forgive Me" was moving and uplifting and "I Want To Be In Love" positive and hopeful.

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