Melissa Etheridge is a survivor. Personally. Musically. And so it’s entirely correct for her to block off some of the exits for One Way Out—this is honest and open. And these songs from the early days that Melissa has remembered writing are just that.
She’s been a success from the off and that was 33 years ago. Her self-titled debut hit 22 on the Billboard charts. She garnered her first Grammy nomination from it and by the time of her fourth, Yes I Am, she was a mainstream name with a six times platinum album. And that interest didn’t wane, the follow-up did even better on the Billboard top 200, hitting number six; not that she has cravenly hugged the charts, her albums have been personal too, detailing lost relationships and religious belief, perhaps her comment about 2010’s album Fearless Love (‘it’s about choosing love over fear. In a way, a philosophy that suits me well’) is the closest we get in her approach to music.
She has survived physically and emotionally and the #etheridgenation is very busy on Twitter, even detailing the amount of hours before the new album, this album, One Way Out, was released. A new Melissa Etheridge album is big news. She does what she wants. She even appeared on Broadway in the Green Day musical ‘American Idiot’—no album of hers is just tossed together. Even when this album is made up of songs which never made it onto other Etheridge albums, these songs are never poor relations, delivered as they are by her original band to add a little youthful frisson to songs written around 30 years ago.
And she absolutely delivers songs which sound so now. We begin with the squalling guitars and wailing gob iron of title track ‘One Way Out’, a wooden-floored sound to Fritz Lewack’s resonant drums, as if they were recording in a natural environment and Kevin McCormick’s insistent bass rushing things along whilst still allowing us to sniff the roses, the drums really banging later on as things become a little sultry. But it’s the cutting guitar and that attacking harmonica which make the statement—it’s an opener that brooks no dissent.
And that sass continues in more straightforward blues and country rocker ‘As Cool As You Try’, advising you that although ‘they change scene overnight’, if you decide what you want to be and please yourself, you can still be as cool as you try to be; the harmonica flies again in rough kicking ‘That Would Be Me’ which favours a more down-home blues feel but with a confrontational vocal delivery, fair enough if ‘someone’s getting angry…someone’s getting proud’ and then the guitar solo is so dirty in ‘Save Myself’ it needs a long bath.
The absolute honesty of simple ‘I’m No Angel Myself’ is a big part of Melissa’s appeal. It has a country touch and a smouldering blues feel too, but is absolutely welcoming and warm, as if it wants to sit you down and have a good talk about how you feel, why you feel, and that it’s absolutely fine to feel that way. And then the roll on gorgeously gentle ‘Wild Wild Wild’ is almost a caress—after all she did tell Louder that she thought the song was ‘too sexual’, written as it was before she came out, so she put it to one side; so good to hear it now.
There are live tracks here too, as if the stuff that had gone before wasn’t enough. The crowd at the LA Roxy, greet ‘You Have No Idea’ like a long lost friend—it has such a gritty and gutsy americana feel to it, the crowd holler when she sings ‘your kind of skill’, such a sense of celebration and that Springsteen vibe is all over ‘Life Goes On’, such an easy roll but with real warmth. That’s so hard to do, but Melissa hits a blue collar appeal with a personal reach and a stupendous craft—that trio is unavoidable.
Melissa Etheridge doesn’t dip. In quality. In fortitude. This is a new Melissa Etheridge album. These songs may have been attempted in 2013 and shelved when she left her label, but these are no sweepings from the studio floor. They are as easy to be with as a good friend—after all, these songs were firstly meant for fans on the Etheridge TV Friday Night Time Machine show, so they seem a little like a bonus. But then most things Melissa Etheridge produces are like that—what is she, blues, rock, country, americana? All. As much as you want. One Way Out? That’s OK, I’m not going anywhere.