Etheridge always tries hard--maybe too hard. Her recent albums have frequently replaced inspiration with manufactured passion and emphasized volume over feeling. But this time it's different. With songs of real feeling and grace, "Skin" (due in stores Tuesday) finally lives up to the early promise of her career, back when comparisons to Bruce Springsteen had some validity.
She's no Dylan, but overkill is no longer an issue. The album largely draws on the recent turmoil of her romantic life and the end of her relationship with Julie Cypher. The singer-songwriter remains a raspy rock shouter on the searing "Lover Please," but she shows new restraint, allowing genuine emotion to unfold naturally as she sings, "If there was one thing I could call my own, it would be your love sinking like a stone."
Etheridge's own production is sometimes inappropriately slick, but much of the album surrounds her vocals with the barest of accompaniment: guitar, piano, occasional harmonica and muffled beats. The regretful "Please Forgive Me" and the hopeful "Heal Me" suggest genuine inspiration and life experience. She's not just performing on "Skin," but reconnecting to the raw energy that launched her career. Bad times, better music. Etheridge headlines the Long Beach Terrace Theatre Sept. 14-16.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.