Welcome Freshness in 4th Street
- Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Artist: Melissa Etheridge
Title: 4th Street Feeling
Label: Island Records
2012 may be the year when Grammy winner Melissa Etheridge crosses over into bona fide music icon territory. Now 51, she has just received a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame and is being honored by the National Women's Museum of Art this fall. So it's fine timing, indeed, for the scratchy voiced rocker to take a look back at her roots on this twelfth studio album, 4th Street Feeling.
With the title making reference to the main drag of her small town Kansas youth, the album does maintain that top-down, faded Polaroid vibe. Opener "Kansas City" has Melissa in master storyteller mode, one hundred miles outside of her destination and working out a stripped back bluesy jam. The namesake cut knows a thing or two about 1970s soul and takes the emotive singer way back to that 4th Street feeling / when everything I had could fit into my Chevrolet.
Of note, Etheridge plays all the guitar parts on 4th Street Feeling. It's a choice that serves the songs well, for what she lacks in six-string flash is more than made up for by her rarely subtle vocal delivery. It also allows her longtime backing musicians to color the album with a purified brand of rhythm that separates the showboating bar bands from the do-what's-best-for-the song ensembles.
Such an approach saves lyric-by-the-numbers anthems like "Shout Now" (deep bass-thumping ‘60s rock) and "Be Real" (some funky fun with a playful David Bowie reference) from becoming too cliché. The sultry "Rock and Roll Me" (Come on baby rock and roll me / take me in your arms and hold me) doesn't fare quite as well.
There's a welcome freshness to first single "Falling Up," where Melissa picks up a banjo-guitar that makes for a lighthearted, Rod Stewart "Maggie Mae" type of moment; Etheridge says it's really a Mumford & Sons influence from her teenagers' playlists. Likewise, she has mentioned the continuing impact of Adele on the music scene, and there are detectable traces of that truth in compelling piano and melody of "A Disaster."
Other winners include extreme opposites "The Shadow of a Black Crow" (Father forgive me what my mother don't know / the scratches on my soul) and the far brighter and empowering "Enough Rain."
"I had to love every note on this album," Melissa said about 4th Street Feeling. Her longtime listeners will love it, too.
*This review first published 9/25/2012
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