Ever Since You Never Heard of Me
(Arpeggio, 2010)

People who associate Melanie with "Candles in the Rain," "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma," and "Brand New Key" are often surprised to learn she had an active career for the 40-plus years since those songs charted. She has been touring and recording all along and has racked up more than 25 albums of absolutely brilliant music. She is an American classic who has never quite gotten the reward that her abilities deserve.

The title of her album, Ever Since You Never Heard of Me, satirizes her position in American music -- an icon who, although respected in the industry and worshipped by an international band of fans so devoted that they might as well be a cult, can't get played on the radio. Ever Since You've Never Heard of Me offers a dozen reasons why we should be listening to her, gathering together a group of new songs that salute everything from angels to the simple act of smiling to Johnny Cash. Produced by her son, Beau Jarred, who is a masterful guitarist and guitar-viola player, the album, like all of her music, ignores trends and charts and just offers music from Melanie's heart.

Her voice is better, stronger than it has been in some time. She doesn't sound like the whispery little girl with the wavery tremelo who sang her hits. No, now, she sounds mature and confident, singing with a skill and a passion that she had to grow into.

"I Tried to Die Young" is a song about where her career is now, the reality of being a middle-aged singer-songwriter in an industry that worships youth, of being a singer in an industry that thinks Demi Novato is a singer. In it, she describes how she tried to die young but the drive inside her, her passion for life and her art, wouldn't let her; the death, of course, is symbolic, referring to the compromises she was unable to make and the steps the industry wanted her to take. It is a song about a woman determined to be who she is, and it is a powerful statement. "I Tried to Die Young" is the centerpiece of an album of centerpieces.

If there is a theme to the album it is acceptance. The songs are all about how you have to maintain your integrity in a world that is rapidly losing it; you have to love purely and totally, recognize the good in all of us and continue smiling in the face of adversity. If that sounds preachy, relax; there's no preaching in the album. Melanie does not pontificate; she works by images and metaphors, casting her ideas in specific situations, letting the literal show the symbolic.

Ever Since You Never Heard of Me is an important album that is also an entertaining album. If the radio wasn't controlled by corporations that catered to the lowest common denominator, this record would bring Melanie back to the top of the charts.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

27 October 2012

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