Sarah McLachlan knows synchronicity. When she introduced the all-women Lilith Fair two years ago, she also released "Surfacing," which went on to become the best-selling album of her career. Last year's traveling festival brought a two-CD, multi-artist anthology drawn from performances on that inaugural tour.
Now, as McLachlan embarks on what she has already declared will be the final Lilith Fair, there are two new keepsakes: "Mirrorball" (Arista), a live concert collection taken from her 1998 solo tour but featuring mostly material she performed on the Lilith tour; and two more volumes of "Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music" (Arista), taken from last year's gathering.
As "Mirrorball" confirms, McLachlan is blessed with a beautiful voice--a warm, earth-toned alto that can slip into crystalline coolness--as well as an empathetic persona that suits the material, particularly when she navigates the fractured topography of romance. While relationships can produce exhilaration and feelings of completeness--just listen to "Ice Cream" and the wonderfully blunt "I Love You"--more often they lead to lovelorn confusion, and to situations that are impossible to make sense of.
For instance, there's the uninterested lover of "Good Enough," who forces the narrator to humble herself by pleading, "Let me show you why I'm so much more than good enough." In "Fear," McLachlan graduates from serenity to dynamic sorrow, confessing, "I fear I have nothing to give/ And I fear I have so much to lose." And in "I Will Remember You," McLachlan sounds doubt-ridden and emotionally spent as she wanders the song's melodic trail, thinking of all the good things that must now be consigned to the past. "I will remember you," she sighs. "Will you remember me?"
In the sly, lighthearted "Ice Cream," McLachlan sweetly brags that "your love's better than ice cream/ Better than anything I've ever tried." Better than chocolate, too, she says. You get the idea, fattening as it may be. Likewise, "I Love You" is languid, graceful affirmation, and though it protests the inadequacy of words in describing its sentiments, McLachlan's supple melody and genial cliches suffice.
This beautifully recorded album includes most of McLachlan's recent radio hits--"Building a Mystery," the wistful "Adia" and insistent versions of "Sweet Surrender" and "Possession," both brightly burnished by the guitars of David Sinclair and Sean Ashby. Most of the material comes from her two most recent albums, "Surfacing" and "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" (its title track given a thick, roiling treatment), and they are not radically different from their original studio versions.
The odd songs out are "The Path of Thorns (Terms)," a rarity from 1992's "Solace" album, and two numbers performed by McLachlan alone at the piano. One is a beautiful ballad of love gone sour, "Do What You Have to Do," while "Angel" is a searing snapshot of an artist turning to drugs to battle encroaching demons. It's a song of solace and compassion, as is the anthem "Hold On," McLachlan's inspired response to losing several friends to AIDS. For some, solo Sarah is prime McLachlan. To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8161.
'Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music'
McLachlan reprises "Angel" on Volume 2 of the new Lilith Fair compilation, but it takes on a slightly different shading when she's joined by Emmylou Harris, one of the great harmony singers of all time. Harris also turns in a thumping "Deeper Well" on a collection that reflects the expanded stylistic range of last year's festival participants.
Volume 2 includes the bright South Africa pop of Angelique Kidjo's "Never Know" and the positive hip-hop of Queen Latifah's "Life," and stabs of electronica (Morcheeba, Heather Nova) along with the usual assortment of angry young women (Sinead O'Connor, Tracy Bonham, Holly McNarland) and acoustic folkies (Shawn Colvin, Lisa Loeb). The talent-deserving-wider-recognition award here goes to New Zealand's Bic Runga on the seductive "Sway," while veteran Natalie Merchant does a surprisingly effective turn on one of Elvis Presley's signature songs, "In the Ghetto." To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8162.
Volume 3 also serves up varied treats, from the fatback bass-driven retro-funk of Me'shell NdegeOcello's "Soul Record" and lush neo-soul of N'Dea Davenport's "Underneath a Red Moon" to Luscious Jackson's quirky, beat-happy "Naked Eye" and Sixpence None the Richer's Cardigans-evoking "Kiss Me" (recorded a full year before it became a soundtrack smash). There are some familiar faces--Indigo Girls, Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega (whose "Luka" sounds seriously dated), promising newcomers (Rebekah, Chantal Kreviazuk) and the indomitable veteran Bonnie Raitt, who contributes some nasty slide guitar and a boatload of attitude to her own sizzling "Spit of Love." To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8163.
Kendall Payne: 'Jordan's Sister'
Payne turned some heads at last year's Lilith Fair, and she's done it again on her debut album, "Jordan's Sister" (Capitol). At 19, Payne has certain similarities to other young female singer-songwriters, notably Fiona Apple, with whom she shares a rich, expressive voice and poise seemingly beyond her years.
As might be expected, there are several reflective songs dealing with coming of age and trying to figure out one's place in the adult world: the idealistic "Closer to Myself," the Jewel-like "Wonderland" and "Modern Day Moses," in which she insists, "I want to be more than someone who just passes through this life/ I want to stand up for what is right." Some tracks seem particular to Payne's age group: the consoling "Fatherless at 14," aimed at alleviating a friend's grief, and "It's Not the Time," which addresses moral dilemmas arising from an unwanted pregnancy.
There's also a touch of Alanis Morissette on "Supermodels," a caustic appraisal of media-generated standards of beauty. And on "Hollywood," Payne actually works with Morissette's muse, songwriter-producer Glen Ballard. But she's clearly more comfortable with her regular producer, Ron Aniello, who co-wrote some of the songs and plays guitar throughout. Aniello seems particularly attuned to Payne's songs of personal faith, from the inspirational, Fiona Apple-ish "Honest" and the deliberate "Never Leave" and "The Second Day" to the album's most ambitious track, the serene chamber-pop confessional "On My Bones." To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8164.
Cherokee: 'I Love You . . . Me'
What do you get when you meld the neo-soul revivalism of Erykah Badu and Maxwell to the confessional singer-songwriter tradition? Answer: Cherokee's "I Love You . . . Me" (RCA). This solo debut is a wonderfully strange brew of R&B, folk, fusion and hip-hop blues, of something old (a late-'60s/early-'70s soul vibe) and something new (the forthrightness and fury of tracks like "While I'm Flying," in which Cherokee muses on mortality . . . at her own funeral).
In some ways, this is a variation on Lauryn Hill's "Miseducation" album, though it seldom moves beyond the personal to embrace the political. Exceptions include "My Own Queen," a self-help empowerment anthem on which Cherokee enlists legendary keyboard player Billy Preston, and the edgy, resilient "Steppin' Stone" ("Every time you treat me wrong/ You give me the strength to carry on"). While much of the album seems grounded in Cherokee's long-term abusive relationship with her former musical mentor, Auto (think of an unknown Ike and Tina Turner), it's not oppressively fixated on the past. Silky up-tempo tracks include "Ooh Wee Wee (4 U Mix)," "Sexy Somethin'," the jazzy "Blue Bottle Afta Shave" and acoustic-framed "Oopsy Daisy," while "Misty" plays off the ever-reliable "Mr. Magic" theme by Grover Washington. To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8165.
Wednesday's Lilith Fair concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion will feature Sarah McLachlan, Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow, the Pretenders, Kendall Payne, Cherokee, Medieval Babes and Toni Blackman.