It's almost time…
For three years Melanie, who became the voice of an era in one magical instant onstage at Woodstock, has been putting the pieces in order.
Pieces of a career, scattered by the winds of experience and assembled again by the force of love into Paled By Dimmer Light, the most personal and brilliant of her many personal and brilliant albums.
Recorded in collaboration with Beau Jarred Schekeryk, Melanie's son and a guitarist/producer with a formidable future of his own, and scheduled for mid-April release, Paled By Dimmer Light takes root in the history she has already made but rises through the light of modern times toward something universal and enduring.
In the irony and compassion of "Smile," the wrenching emotion of "Extraordinary," the biting humor of "I Tried to Die Young," the rushing romanticism of "Elements," the unexpected insights derived from her interpretation of the album's one cover song (consider it a "surprise track"), and the stunning, unforgettable voice that brings each of these new songs to life, Paled By Dimmer Light is something greater than a comeback effort -- after all, Melanie never really left (see below).
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No, this album is a kind of rebirth -- an ignition of the creative energies with which she had first conquered the musical world. As its mid-April release nears, so does the return of an artist who has already had a unique impact on music -- who, in fact, was a prototype for the singer/songwriter concept that we've come to assume was always with us. With tour dates being booked, Melanie is poised to enlighten new generations about what it means to sing with both passion and eloquence, to write at once with intelligence and emotion, and to inspire through song.
Others learned this from Melanie that night at Woodstock, where as a New York kid barely known outside of the coffeehouse circuit in Greenwich Village, she sang her song "Beautiful People" and inspired the first panorama of candles and cigarette lighters ever raised at a concert event. That, in turn, moved the young singer to write "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain"), which sold more than one million copies in 1970 and prompted Billboard, Cashbox, Melody Maker, Record World, and Bravo to anoint her as female vocalist of the year. Her single "Brand New Key," an infectious romp about freedom and roller skates, topped the charts in 1971.
And so her story began. With guitar in hand and a talent that combined amazing vocal equipment, disarming humor, and a vibrant engagement with life, she was booked as the first solo pop/rock artist ever to appear at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, the Sydney Opera House, and in the General Assembly of the United Nations, where delegates greeted her performances with standing ovations. The top television hosts of the time -- Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett -- battled to book her. (After her stunning performance on his show, Sullivan goggled that he had not seen such a "dedicated and responsive audience since Elvis Presley.")
Accolades rolled in, from critics ("Melanie's cult has long been famous, but it's a cult that's responding to something genuine and powerful -- which is maybe another way of saying that this writer counts himself as part of the cult too," wrote John Rockwell in The New York Times) as well as peers ("Melanie," insisted jazz piano virtuoso Roger Kellaway, "is extraordinary to the point that she could be sitting in front of us in this room and sing something like 'Momma Momma' right to us, and it would just go right through your entire being.")
In the years that followed Melanie continued to record, continued to tour. UNICEF made her its spokesperson; Jimi Hendrix's father introduced her to the multitude assembled for the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock. Her records continued to sell -- more than eighty million to date. She's had her songs covered by singers as diverse as Cher, Dolly Parton, and Macy Gray. She's raised a family, won an Emmy, opened a restaurant, written a musical about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane …
She has, in short, lived a rare life. But all of it was just a prelude to what's about to come.
"It took me twenty years to do this album," she says today. "For the first time, I'm not afraid to voice exactly what I feel. I used to feel that I didn't want to say too much, but now I can say anything. Beau's ideas helped me understand this: They're so amazing, so off-the-wall, and yet there's something ancient about them. Honestly, he didn't come up with one thing that I didn't totally love."
For more than three years Melanie and Beau worked together. She wrote; the songs came faster than they ever had, each one opening a door to some new imperative. He created arrangements, came up with melodies of his own that dovetailed with what she had written, recorded the results. Just when they had enough for an album release, more songs poured forth, and they started again from scratch, building onto the best of what they had already done with songs that demanded inclusion.
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Once the dust settled, Paled By Dimmer Light stood, immutable, complete. "I didn't sense a conscious message to this album," Melanie admits, "but when I looked at what we had done and listened to the lyrics, I saw that it had a flow that none of my other albums had. Over the course of the last twenty years I would always record a song at a time; this was the first time that it came out as a single thing. There isn't a single break; it just keeps flowing. This group of songs is just perfect. And every one of them also fulfilled itself on its own."
Longtime fans will sense this immediately. There's something new in Paled By Dimmer Light -- a line of feeling and meaning that threads through every moment of the music. Whether actual occurrences ("Smile") or poetic flights conjured in her imagination ("Lover of My Friend," "Jammin' Alone"), the lessons of life mark the starting point for each song, which then broadens them in ways that allow each of us to find our own connection. It is, in this sense, classic composition, immaculately crafted yet as irresistible as a first love or forgotten heartache.
"I feel like a person who's never been heard," she declares. "Maybe people think they've heard me, but they never really have. I'm a new artist. I'm having so much fun with my voice -- a person shouldn't be allowed to have so much fun. I'm the woman I wanted to be when I was sixteen and going for Edith Piaf. It's me -- I'm back."
Meet Melanie again -- for the very first time.
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