Various Artists

Women's Work

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During the mid-'90s, singer/songwriters were beginning to be heard from in a big way, for the first time in decades. Both male and female composers were benefiting from the public's seemingly inexhaustible appetite for intimate poetry sung over acoustic or lightly processed electric backup. A vanguard of women artists in their twenties were just emerging, while established stars were being rediscovered by new audiences. The younger ones were reluctant realists who came of age in the shadow of the AIDS crisis, a generation who never knew the pleasures of immature irresponsibility. Not surprisingly, their work was not clad in the stuff of dreams, but rooted in hard reality -- painfully intense, close-up views of how people survive their day-to-day indignities. Love is more complicated than ever, philosophy useless, and the truth is impossible to sugarcoat. Even so, amid all the hard knocks, their material is as often sensitive or hilarious as it is pointed or abrasive. The 13 songs on this set bring back a time when the public demanded and got observant troubadours who used small forces to sort out big problems. The lesson here is in how Ani DeFranco, Janis Ian, Vonda Shepard, Toni Childs, and the other great singers showcased here have somehow managed to prevail, despite surreal situations, tall orders, sexism, and their own self-confessed shortcomings.

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