From page 83 of Classic Rock Magazine December 2003
With an ear as well as an eye for the ladies, Classic Rock invites you to sample a seductive selection of eight interconnected, dulcet delights from our Lilith lair.
THERE ARE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THESE eight records that are more solid than the fact that each has been made by a female artist.
Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne, of course, are sisters. Sinead O’Connor and Beth Orton have joined roots music to trip-hop beats and found a commonality in the disconnected spaces there.
O’Connor and Liz Phair have had their moral codes unpicked by the media for their sexual choices, both in life and on record. Moorer and Lynne would acknowledge an explicit debt to Emmylou Harris. All five younger women would acknowledge an even greater one to Harris, Joan Baez and Janis Ian. All eight have produced music that has a depth of expression unapproached by whingy boy-men rock stars who piss and moan at the merest whiff of adversity (Axl Rose, Scott Weiland, Robbie Williams et al).
All eight women, we should also note, do not appear on their album covers or in publicity photos wearing micro-knickers or their old school uniforms. That’s not to say there is among them any denial of sexuality or of the power of sex, it just isn’t reduced to the levels of lad-mag onanism.
‘Liz Phair’ (Capitol, *****), for example, is loaded with messy sex and even messier love.
Since 1993’s ‘Exile In Guyville’ she has had a child, been married and divorced and seen the initial shimmer of acclaim leave her after a couple of average records. She has responded with garage- ish pop and some lush acoustics lashed to pithy observation (‘Love Hate’), wry inversions (‘Rock Me’, about an affair with a man too young ‘to have heard of Liz Phair’) and horny attention-seeking (‘HWC’, an acronym for Hot White Cum’).
Allison Moorer and Shelby Lynne have endured more obvious trauma. When Shelby (the elder Moorer sister by four years) was 17, their father shot their mother dead in the driveway of the family home, then killed himself while his daughters looked on. That their music carries emotional heft then, is no surprise. That they can join together on Moorer’s exquisite live album ‘Show’ (Universal, *****) to sing a heartbreaker (‘Is Heaven Good Enough For You’) about their mother in such uplifting fashion is enough to give you faith in the redemptive power of art.
Moorer is something else. She has a voice as rich as redwood, exemplified on songs like ‘Day You Said Goodbye’ – a tune of the quality that the Black Crowes gave up writing after their ‘Southern Harmony...’ album. On a purely superficial and quite possibly sexist level, the accompanying DVD is a great opportunity to check her out: she looks like a cross between Nicole Kidman and Nancy Wilson.
Shelby Lynne’s ‘Identity Crisis’ (Capitol, *****) offers more complexity. It’s her sixth record, and the title acknowledges her dilemma.
She has tried almost every style – she even recorded ‘Love Shelby’ with Alanis Morissette’s pal Glen Ballard – but it’s only here, in the intimate and bare corners of ‘Telephone’ and ‘One With The Son’ et al, that she has found her voice.
Both Beth Orton’s ‘Pass In Time’ (Heavenly/BMG, *****) and Sinead O’Connor’s ‘She Who Dwells...’ (IRL, *****) are ‘best of’s, at least of a sort. ‘Pass In Time’ catches Orton’s spacy melancholy perfectly, matching carefully considered collectibles and B-sides to ‘She Cries Your Name’ and ‘Central Reservation’. Sinead O’Connor’s talent is the most fragile and destructive here. Like Prince, whose ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ provided O’Connor with the perfect synthesis of singer and song, she suffers because the quality-control gauge is busted. This is a rambling collection of rarities, B-sides and new songs, backed with a live album recorded a year ago.
Joan Baez, of course, merits a reintroduction to the mainstream. On ‘Dark Chords On A Big Guitar’ (Sanctuary, *****) she has recording songs by artists who reflect her influence; Ryan Adams (‘In My Time Of Need’), Steve Earle (‘Christmas In Washington’ and Joe Henry (‘King’s Highway’) provide the best moments.
‘Stumble Into Grace’ (Nonesuch, *****) is only the third Emmylou Harris album to include songs written or co-written by her. Some of those lack a sure touch, but when she sings with Linda Ronstadt on ‘Strong Hand’, you’re listening to history.
Janis Ian was labelled as a subversive for writing ‘Society’s Child’ at a time when the US Supreme Court had yet to repeal laws against inter-racial marriage. She was just 15 years old.
Her clear-sightedness has survived divorce, bankruptcy, hard commercial times and an announcement of her homosexuality. Her album ‘Live: Working Without A Net’ (Cooking Vinyl, *****) wobbles on occasion, but it shows an abiding talent.
IN A NUTSHELL
It’s a fact that, in rock’n’roll circles at least, the female of the species can often be ballsier than the male.