The Good: Good music, Generally good arrangement
The Bad: Missing some great songs, There is a better, 2-disc version
The Basics: The Road Less Traveled is a fine, worthy album, but those who want Etheridge's best ought to get the Deluxe Edition instead!
I have the amazing two-disc CD and DVD version of Melissa Etheridge's greatest hits (reviewed here!). It is one of my favorite Greatest Hits albums and a review I am quite happy with.
Even so, I thought I would review the less good, one-disc version so those who have not heard the works of Melissa Etheridge (I dated someone last year who had never heard of her!) can get almost all of her best works in one place. And while this version does not have the videos that the Deluxe version has, it is adequate . . . but I tend to go for the bells and whistles!
For those who have not heard of Etheridge or her music, she is an established female rocker who has released at least eight albums. 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.
With seventeen tracks, clocking in at 72:48, The Road Less Traveled showcases well the talents of Melissa Etheridge, both as a singer-songwriter and as an artist who reinterprets the works of others. On this compilation, she wrote or co-wrote fifteen of the tracks and she plays guitar on most of them as well. She also takes a production credit on several of the tracks. Outside the covers of "Refugee" and "Piece Of My Heart," this is very much the unique creation of Melissa Etheridge.
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" ("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.
On her own, Etheridge is an impressive singer-songwriter. She has the ability to develop themes and stories in her rock songs, like the terribly depressing "You Can Sleep While I Drive." In that song, she sings about a couple running away together with lines like, "I'll pack up my bag and load up my guitar / In my pocket I'll carry my harp / I got some money saved / Enough to get underway / And baby you can sleep while I drive" ("You Can Sleep While I Drive"). The thing is, Etheridge turns that around in the finale, after the love has faded with the unsubtle, but often missed lines, "If you won't take me with you / I'll go before night is through / And baby . . ." ("You Can Sleep While I Drive"). It is a truly wonderful and well-developed song and it is emblematic of the quality of her works.
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.
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.
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 won't like this album? I don't know, I haven't met that person yet, only those who are ignorant of her works.
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."
Ultimately, my "not recommend" is only because there is a better version of this album out there and I would like to steer people to the Deluxe edition, which has more to offer even casual fans of Etheridge.
For other works by Melissa Etheridge, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Brave And Crazy
Yes I Am
Your Little Secret
Nowhere To Go (single)
A New Thought For Christmas
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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