Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rock Hard Women

(Published yesterday, April 26, Phil. Daily Inquirer-Super)

Some must-hear music by some illuminating ladies
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The better female singer-songwriters have been around for years, their compositions possessing that very specific and distinct perspective that continue to give voices to many fellow women--and even men--everywhere. Sensitive lyrics, made tangible by a multitude of personalities, celebrate womanhood and countless other subjects. There have been, and will always be such bodies of work that will remain intrinsically feminine (and about exclusively female experiences), but the good ones will still be universally relatable.

Here are a few exceptional recordings by women artists or female-fronted bands that connect, inspire and empower, definitely worth listening to and relishing even after International Women’s Month:

Joni Mitchell, “Hits” - Any Joni Mitchell album is worth listening to repeatedly, but this essential compilation gathers 15 of her best songs. From the ‘60s to the ‘90s, the grandmomma of gifted singer-songwriters crafted pure excellence, evident in such classics as “Circle Game,” “Both Sides Now” and “River.”

Sinead O’Connor, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” - Before angry women rockers became all the rage in the late ‘90s, O’Connor made songs that were fueled by emotionally transparent lyrical content, her most prominent ones focusing on disappointment, betrayal and heartbreak.

Sarah McLachlan, “Surfacing” - This is perhaps the Lilith Fair founder’s most accessible album; you really can’t tire of her elegant, powerful voice and her songs that coruscate with attitude and grace.

Heather Nova, “Oyster” - Nova’s rock ditties have that ethereal quality to them because of her seductive, siren-like voice. She’s no slouch in the writing department, either, as this album alluringly proves.

Sheryl Crow, “Sheryl Crow” - This sophomore effort is a more cohesive, smoother collection of songs. Musically and lyrically, this set is easy to listen to, and discusses topics ranging from grown-up angst to playful optimism.

Aimee Mann, “The Forgotten Arm” - The 2005 concept album by the former ‘Til Tuesday vocalist follows chapters of a larger story, each song exposing sides to a romance tarnished by imperfections and unhealthy predilections.

Tracy Chapman, “Tracy Chapman” - She sings about unemployment, racism, domestic disputes and imprisonment. But there are uplifting songs as well in this special gem.

Color It Red, “Hand-Painted Sky” - Cooky Chua and the band’s debut album evokes a range of emotions and inspires vivid imagery. And there’s even a song sung in the perspective of a dolphin. Really.

Alanis Morissette, “Jagged Little Pill” - The hit album’s very honest confessions and personal ponderings made people listen, the Canadian artist’s success paving the way for more young scorned or hurting women with cathartic songs to sing.

Sugar Cubes, “The Great Crossover Potential” - Before Bjork simultaneously wowed and weirded out listeners and music video watchers as a solo artist, she and her band made bouncy, trippy music. Their songs “Motor Crash” and “Regina” eventually became alt-rock/new wave faves.

Dar Williams, “End Of The Summer” - Williams is a gifted folk-pop storyteller whose ruminations on teen paranoia, therapy, and other seemingly mundane things are creatively and interestingly presented.

Liz Phair, “Whitechocolatespaceegg”- The 1998 album has some disparate female perspectives, creatively flavoring such catchy and cleanly produced tracks like “Johnny Feelgood,” “What Makes You Happy” and “Polyester Bride.”

No Doubt, “Tragic Kingdom” - Gwen Stefani and the boys made really infectious ska-pop back in the day. “Just A Girl,” “Excuse Me Mister,” and “Spiderwebs” still sound cool and relevant after all these years.

Milla Jovovich, “The Divine Comedy” - Many years before Jovovich starred as beleaguered heroines in “Resident Evil” and, er, “Ultraviolet,” she released an excellent folk-pop album back in 1994. It’s a smart, audibly winning debut effort that should’ve gotten more attention.

Garbage, “Version 2.0” - It’s sexy, techno-organic and a worthwhile sonic journey every time. Shirley Manson can be feelgood and freaky, apart from being fab.

Edie Brickell, “Picture Perfect Morning” - Brickell’s sound evolved and matured, her lyrics becoming even more heartfelt viewpoints that focused on love, loss, envy and tragedy, among other things.

Indigo Girls, “Rites of Passage” - Emily Saliers and Amy Ray complement each other well in this well-received 1992 album, giving vocal texture and variety to their mostly inquisitive material.

10,000 Maniacs, “Our Time In Eden” - Among Natalie Merchant’s most memorable songs are those with her old band. Socially aware, political and cleverly written, this album showcases their signature janglepop-new wave sound, as well as ska-ish numbers.

Imago, “Probably Not, But Most Definitely” - Definitely a great CD; the strength of Aia De Leon’s voice is apparent early on. It’s easy to like the smartly worded songs with Celtic-like string arrangements, and even the funny spoken parts.

Regina Spektor, “Begin To Hope” - She plays with interesting scenarios, so you can’t help but picture her chosen images. She juxtaposes Samson with Wonderbread, for example, while mostly accompanied by dramatic piano-playing.

Suzanne Vega, “Tried and True” - Vega’s consistently lilting voice is haunting; her changing musical styles are catalogued and collected in this special compilation.

Luscious Jackson, “Electric Honey” - The all-girl trio created an album that’s unified by a focus on fun, translating superbly into pulsating and edgy cuts, atmospheric ballads, and catchy song titles such as “Alien Lover,” “Sexy Hypnotist,” “Space Diva” and more.

Melissa Etheridge, “Yes I Am” - The celebrated lesbian musician’s 10-song album showcased her powerful voice and remarkable songwriting skills. Almost every track speaks about freedom, or her declaration of individuality.

Cynthia Alexander, “Insomnia and Other Lullabyes” – Melodic ditties, introspective words and Alexander’s distinct voice make this first record an unforgettable one.

Tori Amos, “Little Earthquakes” - She’s a one-of-a-kind artist whose art rock sensibilities keep breaking down traditional perceptions of song structures and religious concepts. She sings about violation, self-inflicted suffering, and sex quite expressively.

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