Twenty-five years and a dozen studio albums into her recording career, Melissa Etheridge continues to find ways to surprise and delight listeners on 4th Street Feeling (Island). Etheridge plays it safe on opener “Kansas City,” the first of three songs in which cars play roles of prominence. However, it’s on the title track and “Falling Up” that Etheridge throws caution to the wind(shield). “Falling Up” finds Etheridge lighting a torch for twang, complete with her playing a banjitar. She reveals an inner soul diva on par with Tina Turner on the titular cut and conjures the spirit of Hi Records on “Be Real.” She successfully merges the soul and country vibe on “Rock and Roll Me,” “I Can Wait,” and “A Disaster,” resulting in good feelings throughout.
The always-compelling Meshell Ndegeocello doesn’t disappoint with Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone (Naïve), her tenth studio recording in almost twenty years. An artist renowned for her singing, songwriting, and bass playing (in equal measure), Ndegeocello pays homage to “sovereign soul” Simone, an artist who was as uncompromising as she is. Recognizable Simone selections, including “Feeling Good,” “Suzanne,” “See Line Woman,” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” are treated with reverence as they are reinvented in refreshing ways. Fellow lesbian singer/songwriter Toshi Reagon joins Ndegeocello on a rousing rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” as well as Simone’s composition “Real Real.” Occasional lesbian Sinead O’Connor can be heard on the countrified version of “Don’t Take All Night.” Folk artist Valerie June provides the lead vocals on “Be My Husband” and can also be heard on “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” which Ndegeocello addresses to a woman.
On The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle (Vagrant), Australian lesbian singer/songwriter Missy Higgins returns with her first new disc in five years. Higgins gets off to a hot start with “Set Me on Fire,” a song addressed to Melody, which could be either a person or a musical term. “Unashamed Desire” lives up to its nothing-to-hide mantra, while “Temporary Love” has a permanently funky beat. In keeping with the album’s title, Higgins dazzles listeners on “All in My Head,” “Everyone’s Waiting,” and “Cooling of the Embers.”
Tanita Tikarim was just nineteen when her ironically titled major-label debut Ancient Heart was released in 1988. She also sounded wise beyond her years on that album’s hit single “Twist in My Sobriety.” Unfortunately, none of the discs that followed ever recaptured the energy of her debut. But Can’t Go Back (Eagle/Ear), Tikarim’s first new album in eight years, is a comeback worthy of attention. Still utilizing her warm and husky vocals to great advantage, Tikarim gets things rolling with the rollicking “All Things to You.” The soulful “Dust on My Shoes” is cause for waving a hand in the air and testifying, while “Rock ’n’ Roll” rolls in easy. “Heavy Pressure” is a righteously rhythmic cut meant for dancing.
A bonus disc includes re-recordings of some of Tikaram’s most beloved songs, including “Twist in My Sobriety” and “Valentine Heart.”
Glimmer in the Dark (Ban-Anna) by Canadian lesbian singer/songwriter Anna Gutmanis is a thirteen-track disc featuring songs written over the course of almost thirty years. From politically oriented numbers such as the call to arms “People (Got to Get it Together),” “Another Way Out” (about bullying), and the “out and proud” anthem “I Am Who I Am” to romantic tunes including “First in Love” and “Hello Again,” cat-lover Gutmanis radiates with her musical mission. The album’s most ambitious track, “Middle of the Line,” features a blazing electric guitar solo and sounds like something that Bonnie Raitt would cover.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.