by Erick Trickey
"I am a hopeless romantic / And I'm full of pretty lines," Melissa Ferrick sings on her 2001 album Valentine Heartache. That tells you a lot about Ferrick as a performer, but not the best news: though her albums can be spotty, her live show is terrific.
Three years ago, I left a Ferrick show totally drained, excited that one singer and acoustic guitarist with a drummer could match the intensity of a great rock 'n' roll show. A coworker I saw there raved about her too but by the next week, she'd bought a Ferrick CD and hadn't liked it at all.
How can that be? Well, a lesser Ferrick lyric reads like a raw journal entry: wounded rants or pop philosophy, righteous but unpoetic. Ferrick's voice ranges from plaintive to brittle; her writing is angst ridden and earnest, her guitar strumming manic. On CD it sometimes seems overdone, as if she's reaching out of the speakers to grab you by the shirt and shake you.
But in concert Ferrick has a great presence, charisma, and connection with her audience. Her personal manifestos resonate, and her angry relationship songs turn cathartic when the fans sing along, consoling and consoled. And when Ferrick breaks into her best songwriting, when she finds a structure to carry her emotion, each line holding more power than the last, her guitar work flying faster and faster, it's thrilling, one of the best buzzes you can get from an acoustic-guitar slinger as in this chorus:
| Go ahead and tell your friends |
It was a one-night stand
Tell them you were out of your head
Tell them we never made it to my bed . . .
But don't try to tell me
You didn't look in my eyes and say to me
Don't let go!
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