Talk about the human condition. When Melissa Etheridge released Lucky in early 2004, it was in celebration of a new romance and her status as a veteran singer/songwriter. Sadly, just a few months later, she announced she had breast cancer. But then, almost exactly a year after Lucky's release, Etheridge was on-stage at the Grammys singing a powerful version of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." Her bold, and bald, performance proved that cancer wasn't Melissa Etheridge's goodbye. But it also gave hope to anyone experiencing the same ordeal. Etheridge celebrates her career again with 2005's Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled, which joins highlights and singles from her albums to unreleased material and a rousing studio version of "Piece of My Heart." The cover shot's great, an update of 1992's Never Enough depicting a short-haired Etheridge and her trusty Ovation, and so is her cover of the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers classic "Refugee," which builds from a raw acoustic track to a full-blown rock band/backup singer belter. From there the set continues chronologically. The breathy keyboards of "Similar Features" date it to 1988, but "Like the Way I Do" and "Bring Me Some Water," its fellow singles from Etheridge's self-titled debut, are shots of bluesy, brassy rock & roll that renew amazement in Etheridge's unchecked passion as a vocalist. (Actually, this collection could consist of "Bring Me Some Water" 17 times in a row and still be awesome.) Brave and Crazy's gently evocative "You Can Sleep While I Drive" plays out like a little movie, while the 1993 hit Yes I Am is represented by three slicker yet still strong tracks. Later albums like Breakdown and Your Little Secret get one song each. While she's always been brave, it's clear as Road Less Traveled plays out that Etheridge became less crazy as the 1990s unfolded. She adjusted the swagger of her earlier records with turns toward conventional album-oriented rock and lighter, more tasteful singles ("Come to My Window," for example). But her songwriting always endured, as the previously unreleased "This Is Not Goodbye" and "I Run for Life" show. Both inspired by her cancer, the former is an elegiac meditation on mortality while the latter celebrates recovery, endurance, and belief. Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled is a comprehensive, entertaining, and ultimately redemptive collection from a woman who truly deserves it.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus