Melissa Etheridge

4th Street Feeling

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On 4th Street Feeling, songwriter Melissa Etheridge looks back, both biographically and musically. The title of the album is named for the main drag in her hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas, and her upbringing is referenced on several tracks. Recorded with her road band in Nashville, Etheridge played all the guitars herself (for the first time) as well as harmonica and keyboards. The set was produced (mostly) by Jacquire King; Steve Booker helmed the title track and "Be Real," and Etheridge co-produced. Looking to her roots proves a solid strategy. The musical ones are both her own -- as in her first two albums -- as well as those of her inspirations, including the Eagles, Bob Seger, and Chaka Khan. The rootsy rockers work best. "Kansas City," with its upfront assault guitars ringing out over a rumbling bassline and a strident (but not anthemic) chorus, kicks things off. The title track, with its Rhodes piano, contains an easy soul groove and lyrics that reflect on past innocence as a motivating factor for a simpler life in the present. The grain of her voice is unaffected and balanced against the fingerpopping vamp. The bluesy undertow in the sinister "The Shadow of a Black Crow," is swampier than anything Etheridge has ever recorded, yet the chorus hook brings it right back into her comfort zone. "Be Real" is deep and funky in its restrained, sparse way, with great wah-wah effects. The country tinge on "Falling Up," with its syncopated skittering drums and the banjitar (a banjo body on a guitar's neck) would fit perfectly within the identity crisis that is contemporary country. Likewise the largely acoustic "I Can Wait," with its restraint, emotional conviction, and soulful expression, is the subtlest moment here -- and one of the finest. But not everything works. "Shout Now," a rocker, is an exercise in self-indulgent production; it feels out of place on the first half of the record -- despite the display of Etheridge's considerable guitar chops. Conversely, "Rock N Roll Me" is a simple blues, with excellent guitar work that showcases the expansive natural range of expression in Etheridge's voice. Stripped to the bone, it's a sexy, sultry love song that sends the set off on a high note. 4th Street Feeling is largely a return to form for Etheridge; a record that reaffirms her place as a songwriter and recording artist who is in a class of her own.

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