Sarah McLachlan

Artist's Choice: Sarah McLachlan

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For the most part, musicians are not terribly articulate about their musical likes and dislikes. After all, that's not how they make a living. However, good musicians are almost without exception attracted to musical excellence in some form or another, and the more eclectic their own creative efforts, the wider the net they are likely to cast as listeners. Sarah McLachlan's typical comments about the music she has selected for this Artist's Choice CD don't get much beyond "simple," "beautiful," and "heartbreaking" -- but within these vague boundaries, she offers up everyone from Cat Stevens and R.E.M. to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Willie Nelson, and Clannad. It's not always a terribly cohesive program; the stylistic leap from Ali Khan to Emmylou Harris, for example, may represent an aesthetic challenge for some listeners. But there's not a dud among the group of 15 pieces in the program, and the program is just unusual enough, without being willfully obscure, that almost everyone is going to come away with some new discoveries. Not coincidentally, that's a basic purpose and premise of the entire Artist's Choice series. With the exception of the Ali Khan selection (the title song from his 1990 Mustt Mustt CD), all of McLachlan's selections fall into the folk end of contemporary pop -- which is consistent with her own performance orientation. However, she's not afraid of big production numbers, and while the majority of her choices (by Stevens, Harris, Nelson, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Ron Sexsmith, Lucinda Williams, the Indigo Girls, and Jane Siberry) are relatively spare instrumentally, other pieces by R.E.M. ("Everybody Hurts"), Peter Gabriel ("Solsbury Hill"), Talk Talk ("Desire"), and Clannad ("Theme from Harry's Game") pack a real musical wallop, with a full orchestral sound and additional choral elements. McLachlan is not adverse to musical experimentation (witness the inclusion of Rufus Wainwright's languid, arty "Poses" and Siberry's typically oblique "The Life Is the Red Wagon") or verbal dexterity (the Indigo Girls' "Love's Recovery"), but the majority of her selections reveal a fundamental desire to be moved emotionally and a taste for the dramatic. Sometimes the drama is conveyed by a voice (e.g., Cat Stevens); sometimes by the combination of a voice and a particularly incisive, poignant lyric (e.g., Williams' "Right in Time"); and sometimes by voice, lyric, and music together (the wall-of-sound presentation of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" being the best example of the latter technique). All in all, it's a stimulating journey. And as McLachlan herself commented, without apology, as she took stock of the finished product: "There's a lot of heavy stuff on there."

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