Friday, July 5, 2013

Lilith Fair: A Celebration Of Women In Music, Not As Good As I Experienced It

The Good: Some great performances by some wonderful musical artists
The Bad: Some lousy performances by some mediocre musical artists
The Basics: Track by track a hit-or-miss album, this is a sampler of women and their guitars performing at Lilith Fair concerts with mixed results.

The very first concert I ever went to was Lilith Fair in Canandaigua, New York. I had graduated college the December before, I was poor, working in an art supply store and recovering from an illness I had had for years. Heather Nova was performing on the second stage and I had been listening to her masterpiece, Siren (reviewed here!) for months as I recuperated and Canandaigua was only twenty-five miles from where I was living. I could not not go. I bought tickets. Then I won some off a local radio station. Regardless, I was going and it was pretty wonderful for me. I mention this because I want to make it clear from the outset that I'm a fan of the Lilith Fair idea and experience.

So, it seemed pretty natural that I would pick up Lilith Faith - A Celebration of Women in Music, a two disc c.d. set featuring 13 tracks (just under 55 minutes of music) and 12 tracks (just under 49 minutes) featuring artist performances from some of the Lilith Fair concerts. Proceeds from purchasing this c.d. go to RAINN, which is a worthy organization to be sure. The important thing to note about this two-disc "Lilith Fair" set is that it is not Lilith Fair, it's a recording. As such, I'm reviewing it as a collection of live tracks from female artists who appear on it.

As the title suggests, this is a collection of live tracks from all female artists, though the range of those artists is somewhat limited. The album opens with Paula Cole, who likely was put there based on her prominence with "This Fire," which was hot at the time. Similarly, The Cardigans are near the front of the first disc, which suggests they were still enjoying their brief popularity in the mainstream when this was released. Of course, Sarah McLachlan pops up on the album, as do Suzanne Vega, Susanna Hoffs (former lead singer of The Bangles), Indigo Girls, Dar Williams and Lisa Loeb.

Mixed in with well known acts, or recognizable artists like Shawn Colvin, Meredith Brooks and Joan Osborne, are an assortment of performers whose one-hit never launched them into one-hit wonder status. This collection is a place where one may hear the works of Autour de Lucie, Lhasa, Patty Griffin, Yungchen Lhamo, and Victoria Williams. Sadly, it turns out virtual unknown Dayna Manning was at the Lilith Fair I attended and she left so little impression that I did not recognize her work on this two-disc set.

So, this is a concept that is clever and difficult to pull off; Sarah McLachlan hopes to get people to purchase this two-disc set based on the strength of known performers and lure them into listening to other artists. It's a good idea and this album just about pulls that off. Wisely, McLachlan and her associated artists give the listener something generally new and different from their repertoire on this album.

So, for example, Meredith Brooks does not perform "Bitch," but rather a song called "Wash My Hands." Lisa Loeb does not perform her megahit "Stay (I Miss You)," but gives the listener "Falling In Love." Joan Osborne distances herself from "One Of Us" with "Ladder" and Paula Cole presents a live version of "Mississippi" that proves that her strength on the album is not produced, but rather a product of her own abilities.

Some of the artists (virtually all of the performers wrote their own music) perform their one-hits or their most popular recognizable tracks. So, for example, I recognized Abra Moore's song "Four Leaf Clover" from the brief time that received radio airplay. Susanna Hoffs opted for a live version of The Bangles's "Eternal Flame" (it's quite wonderful) and Sarah McLachlan performs "Building A Mystery," sounding distinctly different from Mirrorball (reviewed here!). In another sad note, it's quite possible I saw Tracy Bonham perform "The One," as she does on this set, but it left so little impression with me that it seemed new to me when I heard it here.

The album sounds exactly like what one would surmise it would coming from Lilith Fair. It's a lot of women. Women with guitars. Almost universally, the tracks are a woman, usually with a guitar, singing her heart out. Some of the tracks have the usual live conceit of the audience responding to open or close the track or they have the artist speaking to the audience, but largely it's a woman with a guitar rocking her heart out.

This is combined with the occasional foreign language track, usually sounding like a tribal chant of some sort, as Yungchen Lhamo's "Lama Dorje Chang" is. The result is that this is a remarkably inconsistent album. Track to track, its hit or miss. I think there are more hits, but it's unlikely this two-disc set will be palatable to those who do not have a love of female pop-rock or folk-rock artists. That's pretty much what it is.

There are some decent unknowns on here, as well. Frankly, I like the Tracy Bonham song "The One" and I was glad to hear it on this set.

But largely, this was a wash for me and ultimately, my recommendation for this album came down to the idea that I liked where some of the money from the sale of this was going. No doubt there are places online you can rip your favorite songs from without listening to some of the more mediocre tracks, but then RAINN doesn't get its cut and you're not opening up to any other artists.

The best tracks are "Eternal Flame" by Susanna Hoffs on disc one and "What Do You Hear In These Sounds?" by Dar Williams on disc two (it sounds distinctly different from her live rendition of the same song on Out There Live, reviewed here!). The weakest links are "Lhasa" by El Payande (disc 1) and the awful, squeaky closer, "Periwinkle Sky" by Victoria Williams (Disc 2).

For other live albums, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Tina Live In Europe - Tina Turner
Live - James Taylor
In Philadelphia - Wilson Pickett


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst.

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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