I don't know Melissa Ferrick. I have never seen her play live,
never spoken to any member of her fan club (assuming she has
one), never exchanged email with her producer. In fact, until
I stumbled across Listen Hard, by the most sheer
of accidents, I had never so much as heard of Melissa Ferrick,
much less heard her music. I am not familiar with the artist
in any way whatsoever, and I certainly have no idea what sorts
of thoughts run around her head in her private time. But with
that said, I must offer an opening by way of apology to here.
Dear Ms. Ferrick,
I am sorry if the following review of your latest album, Listen
Hard, is clichéd or hackneyed. I apologize if I make
comparisons that have been made so often that you abhor critics
who continue to make them. I apologize if I use theoretical
'musical genres' to categorize your music that you now (or have
always) taken offense to. I do not intend to insult, degrade
or generalize your music, it's just that I don't really listen
to this style of music often enough to not write somewhat
clichéd explanations. But with that said, I am so impressed
by the overall sound of your album that I really want to write
a review of it. It is, at this point, one of the five best listens
I've experienced this year, so I hope you will forgive me for
the retreads of things you've likely heard all too often before
in exchange for what meager positive press I can offer in return.
Okay, now with that out of the way I will present you, the
reader, with a few words I'm virtually certain the artist has
read a few thousand times before.
Melissa Ferrick plays a form of electric folk guitar music
most often associated with the likes of Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie
Raitt or Michelle Malone (with whom she is playing The Variety
Playhouse soon.) Her songs, both in content, style, and form,
strongly resemble the work of early Indigo Girls (back when
they were really good rather than really famous), only with
a much stronger tendency to rock. Her lyrics are generally of
the introspective, intensely personal bent that tends to drive
the singer-songwriter style. Think Elliot Smith, only female.
There, now the only likely comparison that I've omitted is
Ani DiFranco, who also plays the same kind of music to the same
kinds of audiences, but who I generally find to be more annoying
than entertaining. You should have an idea of what you're likely
to find on Listen Hard at this point. So now let
me qualify all of those comparisons.
Melissa Ferrick, if this album is any reasonable window into
her overall catalogue, is better than any of those artists.
She rocks harder than either of the established, famous artists
mentioned (though a younger Etheridge might give her a run for
her money in that regard), and she writes better, more complete
and fulfilling songs than any of them. Only early era Indigo
Girls (Closer to Fine, Galileo era) match the
material on Listen Hard for quality.
Album-opener Burn This Guitar, an anthem of modern rock
radio if it were on a major label release, sets a take-no-prisoners
aura of greatness from the outset. Shatter Me follows,
re-visiting the always-popular singer-songwriter motif of "I
might love you, so fuck off" but managing not to retread it,
instead maintaining the air of originality and relevance. The
track sequence continues in this vein, never surprising the
listener with stylistic or formal quirkiness but always entertaining
and satisfying with the familiar tropes of the folk-rock crowd.
Selfish Side is itself a standout track, but both it
and the opener pale in comparison to power and magnificence
of Marie in the Middle, a hard played catharsis/dirge
about a friend of the artist who recently died and the card
her (the subject, not the artist) son wrote for her to say goodbye.
It is a truly wonderful and powerful song, one that in and of
itself redeems the entire singer-songwriter medium for a year
or so, in my eyes at least.
My problem, as it were, with folk-rock and singer-songwriters
in general, has always hinged on the notion that this person
singing/playing always seems so convinced that their pain is
different, that their heartache is special, that their insight
is unique. This is why I generally avoid the genre altogether.
But Listen Hard manages to cross the self-reflexive
barrier, exchanging self-importance for a universality of human
emotion, exiting the lands of self-obsessed extroverts with
guitars and entering the realm of sublime musical statements.
I am extremely impressed, and I strongly suggest that, if you
have any interest whatsoever in folksy, guitar oriented artists
that you make a point of picking Ferrick's latest up. (I have
been able to find it at several online e-tailers, in case you're
into the internet ordering thing.)