Melissa Etheridge, Elle Varner
Melissa Etheridge, 4th Street Feeling
Fearless Love revisited Melissa’s song-kill mode when the feisty return-to-rock was released two years ago, but her latest album really takes the beloved icon back to her roots. All the way back, in fact, to Kansas City (the disc’s title is a nod to where she grew up). She’s road-tripping through her Missouri hometown on the opening cut, a roots song with a harmonica solo and the kind of rawness that elicits late-’80s Etheridge. She longs for the simple life on the title track, and after this past year—her nasty custody battle went public—who can blame her? That angst and frustration finds an outlet: “Shout Now,” referencing betrayal and a “bad dream” over an aggressive mix—a liberating shake-off. “The Shadow of a Black Crow” has her giving into temptation as a lost child; without going all Skin on us (remember how depressed she was then?), this is Etheridge at her darkest. The piano is a nice touch to “A Disaster,” and on the romantic “I Can Wait,” she’s the voice of reason. Whereas the arena-rock sounds of U2 and Kings of Leon spurred Fearless Love, Etheridge appropriately plays off the music of her early days: the Eagles, Bruce and Bob Seger. She’s as stripped-down as she was 25 years ago on her self-titled debut, when songs like “Bring Me Some Water” made her a household name. The bluesy “Rock and Roll Me” has her teasing the lesbians with an extended euphemism of horizontal fun: “I hope you understand what I mean,” she winks, all sexy sounding. Now where’s that water?