The Awakening

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Last summer, Melissa Etheridge looked out at the crowd gathered for the U.S. portion of Al Gore's Live Earth concert and said, "America, what happened to us?" Coming as it did in the middle of an incredibly moving set, Etheridge's emotions were palpable. The reactions from the audience ranged from tears to disgust; clearly she had touched a raw nerve that wasn't about to be discussed within the larger context of the event itself.

And then a bizarre thing happened: Her performance basically disappeared. On NBC's primetime highlights show that night, Etheridge's set wasn't included, and in the days that followed, reviews of the shows started popping up in the MSM, again with no mention of this truly outstanding performance. It wasn't even mentioned in passing that she was one of the performers. Just plain scary.

Completed before the Live Earth show, The Awakening is an autobiographic celebration of Etheridge's journey from a Midwestern girl with big dreams to L.A. rock star and the freedoms that come with that, which eventually led her to the realization that it was time to finally come out, and damn what the homophobic fans thought. The album's final third is where the real political sentiments come, however. Beginning with "The Kingdom of Heaven," which examines religious fanaticism in both fundamentalist Christianity and radical Islam, even alluding to reprehensible "Pastor "Fred Phelps, he of the lovely "God Hates Fags" Web site.

The album's final tracks allude to anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and conscientious objector Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada, The stunning closing tracks, "Imagine That" and "What Happens Tomorrow," ultimately articulate Etheridge's real motive is making this album: an American artist and mother who wants a better world for her — and our — children, plain and simple. It'll be fascinating to see where her conscience takes her from here.

Editor's Note: This week, we're cleaning out the closets, so to speak, and reviewing a bunch of worthy releases that fell between the cracks in '07.

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