By Matt Kelemen
Melissa Etheridge has become adept at playing by her own rules. The stirring, soulful singer-songwriter burst onto the music scene in 1988 with “Bring Me Some Water,” drawing comparisons to Janis Joplin for her vocal intensity. Etheridge had built a strong female following based on her live shows, and with their devotion she quickly transcended comparisons. By 1993, she was on top, winning a Grammy (Best Rock Performance, Female, for “Ain’t It Heavy”) before generating two hit singles—“Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One”—from the best-selling album of her career up to that time, Yes I Am.
Success wouldn’t temper the turmoil that fueled Etheridge’s material. Cancer, chemotherapy, kids, new love and a devastating breakup filled the breaks between tours and songwriting. Etheridge’s survivor status can be felt in every raspy-voiced lyric from her 12th studio album, 4th Street Feeling, which finds her looking back wistfully and forward to all life still has to offer. Some songs sound like “Classic Melissa,” while others find her expressing herself with harmonica (album opener “Kansas City” and strutting rocker “Shout Now”) and “banjitar” (first single “Falling Up”).