Melissa Etheridge didn’t call her latest studio album “This Is M.E.” to suggest that it gave fans the most honest, best reflection of who she is musically, lyrically and as a person of any of her albums.
She chose the title because it represented the sense of discovery she experienced during the project and the fact that she found new parts of herself as a songwriter and musician in doing “This Is M.E.”
And the irony is that in order to make an album that presented a better musical and lyrical picture of herself, Etheridge needed to be far more collaborative in creating the songs than on any of the albums she’s released.
“The lyrics are 98 percent mine,” Etheridge said in a recent phone interview. “I collaborated musically on everything, and that was more fun than I thought it would be.”
In a 12-album career that has included five platinum albums, including 1993’s “Yes I Am” and her 1988 self-titled debut, and popular songs like 1989’s “Bring Me Some Water,” 1995’s “Come To My Window” and 2000’s “Angels Would Fall,” Etheridge has pretty much been a one-woman show when it’s come to her songs. With only a handful of exceptions, they’ve been written solely by Etheridge. But she went into the “This Is M.E.” project wanting to get outside of her comfort zone and find new dimensions in her music. She decided co-writing was one way to accomplish that goal.
She chose several writer/producers whose work stretched beyond rock, including Jon Levine (Nelly Furtado, Selena Gomez), Jerry Wonda (the Fugees, Mary J. Blige), Roccstar (Chris Brown, Rihanna) and Jerrod Bettis (OneRepublic, Adele).
Her collaborators certainly brought new ideas to the table, but to her surprise, so did Etheridge. On many occasions, they heard something unique and new coming from Etheridge, and pointed it out before Etheridge herself realized what she was doing.
“Like in John Levine…the things that I would throw away were the gems that (he was) hearing,” Etheridge said. “(The song) ‘Monster,’ that whole (guitar) lick, I was sitting in the corner and we were playing another song, and I was just (playing around) because I was going to put a slide on another song. And Jerry (Wonda) said ‘Stop! What are you playing?’ And he threw me into the booth and we recorded it and we built a whole song around it. I wouldn’t have done that. So there are things they saw in me that I would have overlooked.
“It’s me getting to know myself on this album. That’s why I called it ‘This Is M.E,’” she said.
The music that emerged on “This Is M.E.” still has the familiar heartland rock foundation that’s expected from Etheridge. But the album successfully makes considerable use of programmed rhythms, incorporates plenty of modern (and often synthetic) sonics into the sound and puts more emphasis on groove. A soul/R&B influence is especially evident in songs like the sassy hip-hop-ish “Monster” and the sensual thump of “All The Way Home,” while Etheridge puts some funk into the rocking stomp of “Ain’t That Bad.” There’s also a bit of country to “Do It Again,” a largely acoustic tune that gets a contemporary touch from its bubbling rhythm track. And there’s a little Coldplay in the spacious epics “Like A Preacher” and “A Little Hard Hearted.” Even “I Won’t Be Alone Tonight,” a rock anthem in the vein of previous signature hits like “I’m The Only One” and “Bring Me Some Water,” mixes up the formula, dialing back on the guitar riffs and putting the emphasis on a big beat and expansive bass line.
One thing that remains consistent on “This Is M.E.,” though, was the honesty that Etheridge brings to her lyrics.
The most obvious example is the closing track, the swelling piano ballad “Who Are You Waiting For.” It’s about her new partner, Linda Wallem, and the moment they decided they should be more than friends. The couple, who live in California, married in May 2014.
Etheridge, 54, has seen her share of roller coaster times in her personal life over the years, including a bout with cancer (she is now celebrating a decade of being cancer free), the tumult that came with becoming one of the first rock artists to come out as being gay and the demise of a pair of high-profile relationships.
In 2000, she split with Julie Cypher, with whom she had a daughter, Bailey, and a son, Beckett, who were fathered by sperm donor David Crosby of Crosby Stills & Nash.
Then in 2010, her nine-year relationship with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels (a union that had produced twins in 2006) ended.
After that second painful split, Etheridge thought she was done with committed relationships.
“I was like no, I’m no good at this. I don’t trust who I fall for,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m doing here, so seriously, I’m through with love. That’s it. I have children, and I’m going to put all my love into my children and I’m going to have meaningless relationships and that’s it.”
But at the same time, Etheridge had invited Wallem to share her home and help with raising her kids. For awhile, all was platonic between the two long-time friends.
“She stayed in the other room and she really helped me,” Etheridge said. “And we did, we were doing all the things that relationship does in a house, that a partner does. At one point, I just, I think I asked her where the sippy cups were. She looked across the kitchen and went ‘Well, dear,’ like a married couple. I went oh, wait a minute, I already have all this stuff I was afraid I wouldn’t have in someone who is able to be a partner and a friend. Why not see if the one last thing works?”
Etheridge is continuing to promote “This Is M.E.” with a winter tour, but she also has a released a new concert DVD/CD, “A Little Bit of Me: Live in L.A.,” to coincide with the road trip.
It features 13 tracks filmed and recorded at the last stop on her 2014 “This Is M.E.” tour, the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. Etheridge said she wanted to document the sound she was creating with her new touring band, which includes Wonda (bass), Arden Altino (keyboards), Brandyn Porter (guitar), Blair Sinta (drums) and singers Jessica Antonette and Ava Raiin.
Etheridge, though, is playing solo on her winter tour, which includes a Feb. 27 concert at Jemison Concert Hall in Birmingham. But she loves how her latest band sounds on the DVD.
“We were so rocking, this band. I was having so much fun playing with these guys,” she said. “They come from the same kind of, I don’t know, soul, as I do. And even my older songs, ‘If I Wanted To,’ all of a sudden was like, ‘Wow, this song is just awesome,’ from 1994. I always like to keep my songs alive. I don’t want them (to be) well, there’s that song. There’s that arrangement. There it is. My songs have gone through so many different things every time I get a new band. And this is definitely more rhythm driven. And I’m a much better lead guitar player. I play so much more lead. That is really showcased on this DVD.”

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