Friday, December 21, 2012

An Extraordinary Road, No Matter How Traveled: The Road Less Traveled By Melissa Etheridge (My Next Artist Of The Month!)

The Good: Nice retrospective, Great cover of "Refugee," Lyrics, Voice, Instrumentals
The Bad: Where is "Enough of Me?!" Thematically monotonous
The Basics: A decent collection of the known singles of a great rocker with new tracks to make it worth a fan's money.

Melissa Etheridge is a singer/songwriter whose works I have often enjoyed when I heard them on radio (despite the massive overplaying of "I'm the Only One" and "Come To My Window") and she's been on my short list of artists who I've felt I should pick up a Greatest Hits album from if it ever came into existence. Melissa Etheridge has released such an album and it is called The Road Less Traveled, something of an ironic title considering most every artist that survives three albums releases a Greatest Hits disc. The Deluxe Edition of The Road Less Traveled contains a c.d. with seventeen tracks and a DVD with twelve videos and a rather in-depth overview of each of the songs on Disc 1 as well as Etheridge's career thus far.

And what has Etheridge's career so far been? She is an established female rocker who has released at least eight albums (I would check the very nice discography on Disc 2, but my television was recently destroyed in a house fire). She is an engaging political activist. She is a breast cancer survivor and now works to raise awareness for breast cancer. And yes, she is probably in a race for world's most famous blonde lesbian alongside Ellen DeGeneres. A pathetic number of potential fans of Etheridge's works cannot get beyond her lesbianism to realize that she rocks with the best of Them (them, in this case, being the rest of the rockers in the world). Etheridge has created a solid musical body of work over the last decade plus and The Road Less Traveled showcases it.

It is a rare thing that an artist can get one to completely reconsider a piece of music when they do a cover of it. Etheridge succeeds, though, from the very first track, which is a cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' single "Refugee." Until Etheridge presents it, it does not quite pop, it lacks the depth its lyrics signify. Until one hears Melissa Etheridge sing "Refugee," the obvious is unclear; this is a song that gets vastly more mileage by being sung by a woman. Who better than a strong, tough, rocking woman to declare "You don't have to live like a refugee?" Etheridge makes few other stylistic changes to the song, but it becomes clear in her interpretation that this is a song best presented as a declaration from one strong woman to all others that it is time take a stand.

From there, The Road Less Traveled becomes a chronology of singles from Etheridge's career, exactly what one would expect from a greatest hits album. The lyrics range from bitter jealousy ("Similar Features") to hot desire ("Bring Me Some Water") to the loss of leaving a lover ("You Can Sleep While I Drive"). Okay, there's not much range here. Almost every track is about love or the loss of love. Or the longing for love. Or trying again.

And it may seem hypocritical of me to decry the album's thematic unity and then complain that the best track in Melissa Etheridge's career is absent from the album, but it's not. Etheridge has an amazing ability to make moody rock. She can make you dance to angry outbursts that seem timed to flailings at an ex-lover ("Like The Way I Do") and that is no small feat. But the album is missing Etheridge's best - and possibly most underrated - track, which is "Enough Of Me" from her album Breakdown. To add insult to injury, the video for "Enough Of Me" is not on the second disc. Instead, the second disc only has videos for songs that are on the first disc. In short, the underuse of the DVD medium - it can hold three hours worth of material, after all! - makes it a disappointing added expense.

The lack of "Enough Of Me," Etheridge's powerful, imploring single of utter despair, highlights the second problematic aspect of The Road Less Traveled. For a greatest hits album, this body has an awfully high number of previously unreleased tracks. Out of seventeen tracks, five of them are previously unreleased or unavailable. Tracks like "Enough Of Me" were muscled off the album in favor of "Christmas In America" and the cover "Piece of My Heart." Granted, "This Is Not Goodbye" is a great song, but "I Run For Life" is likely to only succeed as a result of its affiliation with cancer awareness. It sounds like a song for a cancer awareness commercial and, well, it is.

Outside this minutia, Etheridge admits on the DVD that she purposely did not include any tracks from Skin on here and her reasons are pretty solid. In fact, the redeeming aspect of the deluxe edition is the in-depth interview with Etheridge. She is articulate, funny, insightful and entertaining.

At the end of the day, The Road Less Traveled is an album moved by a woman and her guitar. Her well-crafted lyrics evoke great emotions of love and loss and her music is memorable and recognizable. She is a true professional and a great rocker. Who will like this album? Anyone who truly loves rock and roll. Who will best be suited by the deluxe edition? Fans of Melissa Etheridge. The videos are mostly Etheridge performing and lack real imagination or imagery, so casual fans are unlikely to be wowed by the videos, outside the extensive interview. Who won't like this album? I don't know, I haven't met that person yet.

While missing Etheridge's best track, the superlative track on The Road Less Traveled is "Like The Way I Do," though her cover of "Refugee" is inspired. The weak link, though it's hard to call it that as this is a pretty solid listening experience, is the lyrically predictable and somewhat obvious "I Run For Life."

For other works by Melissa Etheridge, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Brave And Crazy
Nowhere To Go (single)
A New Thought For Christmas
Fearless Love


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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