What's the 4th Street Feeling?
"4th Street is in Leavenworth," says Melissa Etheridge.
That's her home town in Kansas, pop. 35,000, known mostly for its prison and Army base.
And it's the place evoked in the title, and title song, of 4th Street Feeling, the 12th studio album of her singular, 25-year recording career.
"It's kind of the main drag, starting in the old downtown," she says of her old stomping grounds. "I remember the first McDonald's in town there. The town's pretty small. That's where we would hang out, the Burger King parking lot, the football games. Everything was on Fourth Street. That's where we would cruise. And then it turns into Highway 7 that goes out of town to Kansas City."
That's exactly where the album opens, with the bluesy, harmonica-spiced "Kansas City." The scene is set with Etheridge driving in "my old man's Delta 88," reliving road-trips fueled on "Lucky Charms, Tic Tacs and Mom's amphetamines." Only this time, the woman who left Leavenworth for Hollywood years ago is taking herself - and us - home. It's a trip to where she's from. But also a trip to where she's headed.
There are "all the untold lies of my misspent youth," as she sings in the funky coming-of-age tale "The Shadow of the Black Crow," a song in the storytelling tradition of such cherished artists as the Eagles and Bob Seger. There is the demand to "Be Real" ("You can't manufacture me, because I like it naturally"), a song in which she says she nods lovingly to the sultry, sexy soul of Rufus with Chaka Khan and Sly and the Family Stone. And she voyages into new territories of folky rock with the first single, "Falling Up," a joyful, upbeat track featuring her spirited recording debut on the banjitar, a hybrid banjo-guitar.
The fuel for this trek is her inner strength and confidence. In part it comes from recognition - 2011 has seen her awarded with a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, and in the Fall of 2012 she will be honored by the National Women's Museum of Art in Washington, DC. But more so, if it comes from within.
"There's a certain confidence and assurance I get from all this, knowing that I can keep my day job," she laughs. "That shows on this album. I am fearless on this. I'm going to have fun. I had to love every note on this album."
1. Kansas City
2. 4th Street Feeling
3. Falling Up
4. Shout Now
5. The Shadow Of A Black Crow
6. Be Real
7. A Disaster
9. Enough Rain
10. A Sacred Heart
11. I Can Wait
12. Rock And Roll Me