Some of you may remember “The Lilith Fair”, a very successful music festival founded by Sarah McLachlan in an attempt to promote female artists. While I never attended myself (I’ll be honest, the lineup never thrilled me enough to justify the purchase price), the concept is certainly as good as any other excuse for a music festival, and there are more than a few female artists and female-led bands that have had albums I count among the best I have known.
Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Toward Ecstasy: Where better to begin than with the original Lilith Fair’s founder? While Fumbling Toward Ecstasy was not Sarah McLachlan’s first record, it was the Canadian pop star’s first international hit, and certainly my first exposure to her music. I was immediately captured by the power and passion of “Possession”, and I’m not going to lie, the fact that she was beautiful didn’t hurt. (I was 19. Cut me some slack.) When I bought the album, I was mesmerized by the haunting, ethereal quality of her voice, and the range of her ability. She was able to bring the same presence to a song as bouncy and light as “Ice Cream” as she did to a dark and disturbing track like “Hold On”. While she’s had other, bigger hit records since then, I still believe this is her finest work.
Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting: While we’re on the subject of dark and disturbing, let’s talk about Bloodletting, shall we? The third studio album from Concrete Blonde, there’s a definite goth feel to this one, which is how I was initially exposed to it, which would also be why I am well and truly sick of hearing the title track (even though I have to admit it’s a great song). Sure, it’s a vampire song (it’s even subtitled “The Vampire Song”), but for my money there are much better tracks on this record. Being a Ramones fan I couldn’t help being drawn to “Joey”, which I was told was a song about a tumultuous relationship between singer-songwriter/bassist Johnette Napolitano and Joey Ramone (it’s a false urban legend, in case you’ve heard the story; still a great song, though). If I had to pick a favorite song on the album, I would be torn between the power-driven “The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden” (which considering the goth nature of the album and certain key references leads me to believe it may be an allusion to Edgar Allen Poe, which I love) and “Tomorrow Wendy”, another song that delicately straddles the line between ballad and punk-rock power. The beauty of this album is that while it can be easily accessed on the first listen, it has layers of complexity that will only unwind with repeated attention.
Indigo Girls – Rites of Passage: While I’m not often wrong, when I am wrong, I’m wrong in a big way, but I do try to at least admit to it. So let me state, publicly and for the record, that I was wrong. My Not So Humble Sister was the one who introduced me to this album, although not in the traditional way. Rather she listened to it over and over and over (it’s a genetic flaw we shared, known within the scientific community as “being a teenager”). I rebelled against this and refused to even admit there might be merit. Eventually I relented, mostly due to the song “Galileo”. It was a big hit at the time, and I finally had to admit maybe there was something here. Their cover of “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits was also impressive, and in fact it took me a long time to warm to the original after I became obsessed with this version (more on that another time). The complexity of their lyrics, combined with the beautiful harmonies they performed together finally won me over, and they manage to cover a lot of musical territory in one album.
Shakespear’s Sister – Hormonally Yours: Rounding out the Lilith Fair is another album recommended to me, although this time in the more traditional way, and once again it’s a duo that brings together fantastic harmonies and manages quite a wide range of musical style. My first exposure to them was through the only big hit I can recall them having in the US, “Stay”, which had an… interesting video, to say the least (I couldn’t explain it if I tried). When I mentioned it to a friend, he had me listen to the entire album, and I fell in love. I never would have guessed that Siobhan Fahey had been a member of Bananarama just a few years earlier, but that’s show biz for you. While the album is almost certainly pure pop, there’s also something richer and deeper than traditional pop music here, as the blending of these two different voices and the lyrical territory they cover takes it into what might be dubbed “anti-pop” territory. Some prime examples of this are “Goodbye Cruel World”, “My 16th Apology”, “Emotional Thing”, and “Let Me Entertain You”, in addition to the aforementioned “Stay”. Finishing off the album with the surprisingly mellow and downbeat “Hello (Turn Your Radio On)” is the perfect finish to this hidden gem.Related Posts: