"Night after night, trying to get out of my skin
Day after lonely day, you'd send me back again"
— "The Prison"
Melissa Etheridge's seventh release is filled with the kind of sometimes angry, sometimes lonely poetry that launched her to stardom more than a decade ago.
If anything, Skin is a gentler, more reflective release than some of her previous cathartic work, as she sings of the surprise of finding herself suddenly "down to one/my heart is a traitor" in "Down to One," and of the desperate feelings of entrapment – not just in a relationship or a situation, but in your own skin – in the harmonica-saddened "The Prison," quoted above. On her current tour, which played at the Chicago Theatre last week, she has taken advantage of these deeply personal reflections, playing "Live and Alone" with just her acoustic guitar for backup.
That theme of singularity runs throughout the lyrics of Skin, which features the aforementioned "Down to One" as well as "It's Only Me," a thematic flipside to "The Prison," wherein she finds herself "back into my skin" and realizes that she still is the answer to an ex-lover's search. She exudes a self-contained confidence that:
All you'll ever want
all you'll ever need
all you'll ever taste
all you'll ever bleed
look deep inside you
it's only me.
Skin isn't all candlelight self-reflection, though. The first track, "Lover Please," opens with a slowly rocking guitar riff and beat as Etheridge reprises the content of her first couple of hits "Bring Me Water" and "Similar Features" singing with intensity of being cheated on:
Didn't I love you good
didn't I love you right
then tell me where you are going
dressed to kill tonight
oh, this one's going to hurt like hell …
And in "Goodnight," which again features some Springsteen-esque harmonica and an easy swaying plucked guitar, Etheridge croons ""You're not here, you're not even there/out of my heart, out of my hair."
The current single, "I Want to Be in Love" also kicks the tempo in gear a bit and sneaks in some piano, synthesizers and strings to support the universal sentiment of its title. That big sound is deceptive however. In keeping with the album lyrical themes and the "Live and Alone" tour concept, except for a handful of drum and bass parts, Etheridge recorded all of the sounds for this album herself, using a computerized studio.
Ultimately, Skin is more than just a collection of lovelorn songs. This CD is an emotional journey, a cycle that begins with the loss of a lover and the wish for escape, graduates to an acceptance of self and finally ends with the uplifting declarations of "Heal Me," where she declares a readiness to love again:
Heal me, lift me
take me to the other side
I'll take what I've earned
these lessons I've learned
I'm ready for the ride.
While there is nothing on this CD with the force and memorable hooks of "Bring Me Some Water" or "I Want to Come Over," her music remains charged with both strong emotions and melody. Skin is another solid, unblemished collection from one of heartland rock's best singer-songwriters.
They describe themselves as an adult contemporary cross between Berlin and Pink Floyd, but when I first listened to Algonquin, Il., band's self-titled CD, I was reminded more of the atmospheric attack of England's Hooverphonic, Canada's Sound Poets and Tara MacLean or, closer to home, Champaign-Urbana's The Moon Seven Times, which released a couple of critically acclaimed ethereally avant albums on Roadrunner Records.
<signing einstein> singer Gina Gonzalez tops off Joe Nuccio and Vincent Varco's ambient jamming with a charismatic yet dreamy delivery that insists (gently) to be heard. This is an act that manages a nice mix between reflective background music and pop-rock. Look for them to grow beyond their local JNI Record label to national exposure. But in the meantime, check out this laid-back, professional-sounding disc that includes the dramatic "Edward Teach," the dreamy guitar ballad "Heart of Stone," the progressive-rock influenced, dreamily layered vocal exercise of "The Prey of Nantahala Lake" and the Grey Eye Glances-esque airy pop gem "Be That As It May."
For fans of delicately layered pop music spiced with drama, this is a disc not to miss.
For more information, check their Web site at www.signingeinstein.com, where you can order the CD as well as preview its selections.