Our own Lilith Fair: Best new women's works

 

Last week brought what may be the last Lilith Fair to Tinley Park's New World Music Theatre, and this week, Pop Stops brings you a Lilith Fair of its own — a survey of some great summer discs by female artists.

 

Beth Hart - Screamin' For My Supper Beth Hart
Screamin' For My Supper
(Atlantic)


I vaguely remember Beth Hart's debut CD four years ago slipping through my stereo without making an impact on me. So I didn't expect much when I put her follow-up into my car deck and leaned back for a long ride up Interstate 294.

When the disc was over, I let it play again.

When I got in the car to return home, I listened to it twice more.

After two weeks of near-continuous play, I'm ready to say that "Screamin' For My Supper" is one of the best discs of 1999. Filled with intensely personal moments played out by a timeless gritty bar-rock blues backdrop, Hart sounds like a cross between Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge, with the pop sense of Sheryl Crow. (Not surprisingly, Hart has received acclaim for playing Joplin in a Cleveland stage production of "Love, Janis.")

Two of the best moments on the disc allow her to demonstrate that raw Joplin-esque energy. "Delicious Surprise" and "Get Your Sh-t Together" are two hard rockin' classic rock-ish numbers that allow her the freedom to wail all the pain and frustration of living on the wrong side of life. (For trivia fans, both songs are also cowritten by sometime-Styx sideman Glen Burtnik, who also cowrote Patty Smyth's "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough.")

But it's "L.A. Song," a quiet ballad with piano work reminiscent of the classic '70s style that Elton John handed down to Joshua Kadison, that truly roots this album to the heart. Another track, "By Her," is a poignant third-party love song with sparring strings and lightly strummed guitars as Hart deftly paints the story of a lover's fascination.

I could rave about every song on this disc, from the laid-back guitar ballads with the occasional Jimi Hendrix guitar phrasing to the rock-out sing-alongs. Instead, I'll just say this: Buy this album and enjoy the extremes of passion as you let this Hart seep into your own.

 

 

Matraca Berg - Lying To The Moon & Other StoriesMatraca Berg
Lying To The Moon & Other Stories
(RCA)


"Life can be such a scream if you let it
and we're just along for the ride
for the thrill of the flight
let your heart be your guide
we're along for the ride."
— "Along for the Ride"

And what a ride Matraca Berg makes it.

Three years ago, a chink was hewn in my "don't listen to country" armor when I heard Matraca Berg's last album, "Sunday Morning To Saturday Night." Forget the cliché country concerns of whiskey, trailer park losers and bars; this was an album about people, about growing up, about heart. And as one of the pioneers of "new country," Berg relied more on wit and poetry than twang and steel guitars to turn her inner vision to memorable country pop hits.

Well, should've been hits. While "Sunday Morning" ended up on my own and many other publications' best-of-the-year lists in 1996, her record company hit the skids almost immediately and the album went out of print just as record stores began clamoring for additional copies.

It must have felt like a flashback to Berg, who, after writing Patty Loveless' "That Kind of Girl" and Reba McEntire's "The Last To Know" followed up with four Top 20 country hits from her first album in 1990, "Lying to the Moon," but didn't realize the sales that should seem to go with such air play. Two subsequent discs also disappeared without a trace before "Sunday Morning" sunk.

All this stage-setting is a long way around saying that Berg is an incredibly talented, entertaining songwriter who has inexplicably missed the center of the superstar spotlight.

Other stars have seen the depth of her muse; Trisha Yearwood, Linda Ronstadt, Pam Tillis and the late Dusty Springfield all have recorded songs from "Lying to the Moon." And now RCA has put Berg back in the studio to remix those songs and four others for this re-release package, "Lying to the Moon & Other Stories."

If you've ever enjoyed the genre-crossing intelligence of Nanci Griffith, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Roseanne Cash or even Lyle Lovett — if you love a well-drawn song story of heart and hook, get this disc while you can. Sadly, with Berg's history, it may not be available for long.

 

 

Rachel Sage
Smashing The Serene
(Mpress)
½


This independent release from twentysomething New Yorker Sage, is a must-have for fans of the Lisa Loeb/Paula Cole school of female singer-songwriterdom. Sage is a quirky, passionate performer and often sounds like Loeb's little sister on this 13-song release, which is filled with catchy, earthy celebrations of life and woman power. It's deep instrumentally with combinations of guitars, strings, piano and even violin, and occasionally meanders into Tori Amos land in its invoking of "the goddess." It leads off with "Sistersong," which should fit in easily on pop/adult contemporary radio (though without major label backing, it probably won't ever get there.) Sage toured last year with Ani DiFranco, so with any luck, she'll be reaching a larger audience again soon.

For more info, contact MPress at (212) 979-2343.

 

 

Eleanor McEvoy
Snapshots
(Columbia)
½


The first track on this disc, with its mysterious marimba and McEvoy's low crooning delivery brings to mind Tanita Tikaram, who pulled a minor hit out of a similar sound a decade ago with "Twist in my Sobriety." McEvoy is more consistently catchy than Tikaram ever was, despite this album being a slow and quiet one. "There's More To This Woman," "All I Have," and "Wrapping Me Up in Luxury," are three of the best "heart-to-heart" songs released this year. Listen to this smoothly sensual album late at night.

 

 

Amanda Marshall - Tuesday's ChildAmanda Marshall
Tuesday's Child
(Epic)


Marshall's sophomore disc is a more solidly structured pop-rock collection than her 1996 debut (which spawned the hit "Birmingham"), thanks in large part to The Hooters' Eric Bazilian, who cowrote most of the disc's tracks with her (Bazilian has also written a lot with Cyndi Lauper and penned Joan Osborne's hit, "One of Us.") "Tuesday's Child" leads off with the should-be-a-big-hit "Believe In You," a Bic-lighter anthem that previously appeared on the "Touched By An Angel" soundtrack.

"Love Lift Me" and "Too Little, Too Late" follow that up with equally sing-along-ready hooks. The entire album works in the rootsy guitar rock arena that Sheryl Crow has made her name in, and fans of Crow will probably love this disc. It's a fine mix of radio-ready mid-tempo rock.

 

 

Sophie B. Hawkins - TimbreSophie B. Hawkins
Timbre
(Columbia)
½


Hawkins scored big a couple years back with "As I Lay Me Down," a perfectly realized pop lullaby. The pop element on "Timbre" is more restrained this time out, leaving Hawkins to play jazzy chanteuse and reciting beat poet on some tracks. She also explores the forbidden corridors of feminine sexuality on a couple tracks (earning her a parental advisory warning). Overall, this album is more adventurous lyrically than her past two, with interesting bits of exotic percussion supporting a nighttime confessional quality, and yet, musically it listens a little too quietly to capture consistent attention.

"Strange Thing" and "I Walk Alone," have the quiet feel of her last hit, though they're not as immediate to the ear. And "Lose Your Way," with the addition of a bit of Appalachian banjo, ascends into a catchy hymn of love that nabbed it some play on television's "Dawson's Creek." But there's little else here that is likely to shoot her up the FM play lists. It's an uneven disc, but good for background nighttime listening.