"Sometimes its songs are a gentle caress, sometimes its songs are a maelstrom": Melissa Etheridge mixes it up on Brave And Crazy

The comparisons with Bruce Springsteen might be merited, but Melissa Etheridge's second album saw her making a name for herself

Melissa Etheridge: Brave And Crazy cover art
(Image: © Island Records)

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Melissa Etheridge: Brave And Crazy

Melissa Etheridge: Brave And Crazy cover art

(Image credit: Island Records)

No Souvenirs
Brave and Crazy
You Used to Love to Dance
The Angels
You Can Sleep While I Drive
Let Me Go
My Back Door
Skin Deep
Royal Station 4/16

Melissa Etheridge's Brave and Crazy, released in 1989, continued the success of her self-titled debut, scoring Etheridge a second Grammy nomination and solidifying her status as one to watch. The phrase "female Bruce Springsteen" was bandied around with carefree abandon, but the comparison wasn't without merit, with No Souvenirs tipping a lyrical hat to The Boss's Dancing In The Dark, and a shared focus on themes of alienation and escape.

Mixing rock, folk, and blues with Etheridge's distinctive vocals and introspective songwriting, tracks like the aforementioned No Souvenirs, You Can Sleep While I Drive, Let Me Go and Skin Deep all showcased her evolving artistry. And while reviews were mixed, the live shows that followed began to see Etheridge establish herself as an artist with the kind of fanbase that would enthusiastically support a long-term career.  

U2's Bono, a labelmate at Island Records, played harmonica on the closing track, Royal Station 4/16, which Etheridge describes as her "train song." And every folkie needs one of those.  

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Other albums released in September 1989

  • Love and Rockets - Love and Rockets
  • Alice in Hell - Annihilator
  • Key Lime Pie - Camper Van Beethoven
  • Louder Than Love - Soundgarden
  • Megatop Phoenix - Big Audio Dynamite
  • Mick Jones - Mick Jones
  • S&M Airlinesn - NOFX
  • Up to Here - The Tragically Hip
  • Wake Me When It's Over - Faster Pussycat
  • Pump - Aerosmith
  • Foreign Affair - Tina Turner
  • Quickness - Bad Brains
  • Allroy's Revenge - ALL
  • Oh Mercy - Bob Dylan
  • Sound + Vision - David Bowie
  • Let Love Rule - Lenny Kravitz
  • Seasons End - Marillion
  • Soldier of Fortune - Loudness
  • The Healer - John Lee Hooker


What they said...

"Not a trace of the dreaded sophomore curse was to be found on Melissa Etheridge's second album. On Brave and Crazy, the throaty singer/guitarist/composer is slightly more reflective than on her first release, but no less confident. Nor is she is any less rootsy. Etheridge's earthiness is a large part of her appeal, and she uses it most advantageously on the gutsy rockers Skin Deep and Let Me Go. (AllMusic)

"With the overly ambitious Brave and Crazy, Melissa Etheridge leavens the spurned-lover stuff with attempts at poetry, resulting in such cringe-worthy choruses as 'Shame, shame but I love your name/ And the way you make the buffalo roam.' Ouch." (The New Rolling Stone Album Guide)

"Adding guitarist Bernie Larsen to the first album’s Kevin McCormick (bass, co-production) and new drummer Mauricio Fritz Lewak, Brave And Crazy tones down and shifts the arrangements a notch up the evolutionary scale, but the songs (other than the tender You Can Sleep While I Drive) fall short, as do Etheridge’s uneasy efforts to locate a workable folk-rock style for herself." (Trouser Press)


What you said...

Hai Kixmiller: Melissa Etheridge exemplifies herself as one of the best raconteuses of the past 40 years. With Brave And Crazy, she crafts tales of passion and wanderlust. Torn between chasing the horizon or her heart, she shares with the listener stories that are both relatable and sometimes very real. She's the lugubrious, earnest, broken-hearted saviour. She's also a gravel-voiced Siren, her Restless Dreamer's lyrics thundering through her Tempest brand of rock n' roll.

Brave And Crazy is a master work of storytelling. The influence of Bruce Springsteen is apparent in its musical approach and great lyrics. Sometimes its songs are a gentle caress, sometimes its songs are a maelstrom. Whichever type of story you prefer, there's a song here that's bound to reflect some aspect of your life.

Gus Schultz: Can’t say l am a fan of hers despite owing her first and this album, first one I purchased the second I salvaged from the great vinyl purge of the late 80s, early 90s. She is a very talented singer-songwriter along with what seemed to be an onslaught of female artists of the time. The music just seems a little mediocre and the topics of the music a little too relationship centric. Although she can rock for the most part it’s an album that really doesn’t keep your attention and I would leave back in the 80s.

Greg Schwepe: The local FM rock station somehow latched onto Melissa Etheridge’s debut album when it was released. One of those scenarios where I even remember the DJs gushing about it when introducing one of the songs.

Turns out if you play something with really good catchy songs a lot… people like me will go out and buy the album. Impressed. New fan. And then when the follow up, Brave And Crazy, gets released, you go to your local Camelot records and buy the cassette once you’re aware there’s something new out there. And the same radio station will jump on the follow up too. Lightning does strike twice in some cases.

For the uninitiated, Melissa Etheridge is a soulful singer-songwriter with a commanding voice that demands your attention and gets it. Oh, and she’s also one kick ass acoustic guitar player. Brave And Crazy is filled with songs about longing, relationships, setting out on your own, and finding yourself. Introspection, self-inspection, and that intersection while out on the road, maybe trying to figure out which direction to head. And speaking of “out on the road,” this album is totally one you can listen to on a long drive while you ponder things listening to the quieter songs, then smacking your steering wheel and singing along to the foot stompers.

The songs go from intricate guitar playing to all out strumming. And while there is a band on the album, you can tell these songs were built from the ground up; with Etheridge paying her dues playing in bars and clubs with just her voice and trusty Ovation guitar at her side. It's gonna work with other musicians because it worked on its own to begin with.

Not going to do a song by song review; this is one where if you stick around for the first song, you will stick around for the entire album. No sophomore slump, this is just a solid effort that kept her career arcing higher. 8 out of 10 on this one for me.

Mike Canoe: My best friend gave me Melissa Etheridge's Brave And Crazy on cassette for my birthday the year it came out because we had both liked her first album. I politely smiled and said thanks but I was secretly hoping for the new Soundgarden or Sugarcubes because I was now busy establishing residency in "alternative nation" and Melissa didn't really fit.

But I gave it the obligatory listen. Man, was it mellow and melancholy! Not my current vibe at all. But I kept listening to it because that's what you did when you had a limited music collection and even more limited funds.

I think it was the ballads that worked their way in first. Both You Can Sleep While I Drive and You Used to Love to Dance had such great details in the lyrics and, wow, Etheridge's voice had lost none of its power but it was more nuanced and controlled too.

Before long I was shuffling around my efficiency apartment belting "Burn the pictures, break the records, run far away to a northern town!" or "All I want is for your love to be all mine but the angels won't have it!" Turns out, even with the twelve-string guitar right up front, the album rocked pretty well after all. Same with the songs Skin Deep and My Back Door.

Her band is really good too, especially on Royal Station 4/16, this album's version of the debut's The Late September Dogs. It starts as kind of a loose shuffle with some kid name Bono puffing away on a harmonica and builds and builds and builds until it bursts into a big cathartic and messy jam - rhythm section thundering, harmonica howling, Melissa wailing, the guitar almost another percussive instrument. Yowza!

So, I guess the moral of the story is don't look a gift horse in the mouth and don't look a gift cassette in the - um - spools?

John Davidson: I had definitely misfiled Melissa Etheridge in my mental catalogue of music and I am sorry that I didn't give this air time in 1989 when I was listening to John Mellencamp's Lonesome Jubilee and Texas Southside on repeat , but without that air of familiarity how does Ms E's second album fair?

It starts strong with No Souvenirs, but the fretless bass on track two dragged me back to the wrong sort of 80s vibe.

I've listened through the album a few times so far this week and the main draw is the lyrical delivery but if I have a qualm its the tunes. Like most singer-songwriter led songs the voice is the main instrument and Melissa Etheridge has a decent set of pipes but there's just not enough variety for me to keep coming back for the songs themselves. Her best songs tell a story – usually of tortured love – and that's a theme we can all relate to.

Standout tracks are No Souvenirs, You Can Sleep While I Drive and Royal Station 4/16.

Jacob Tannehill: From the first listen. I fell in love with this album. My favorite of her whole collection.

The addition of fretless Bass to this style, makes for a unique sounding album. Melissa was so young and hungry in this album, and you can hear it in her acoustic playing and her vocals.

The combination of driving rock beat and acoustics isn’t a new thing but songs like Let Me Go and My Back Door combine for a cool sound not heard in 1989. Ballads like You Used to Love to Dance and You Can Sleep While I Drive are killer.

Can’t get enough of this album

Troy Marwehe: No sophomore slump here! My introduction to her music began with this album and remains my favorite to this day. This is an amazing example of inspired song writing and musical craftsmanship at its best. Always at the top of my playlist!

T.C. Grantham: I never listened to her until this album was suggested. Can definitely hear a Springsteen influence. A good album!

Michael Ladd: This album is good but her first was epic. Saw her at the Fox in Atlanta during that timeframe and she was an out and out rocker!

Philip Qvist: Yes I have heard plenty of her songs, but I can't say that I'm a huge Melissa Etheridge fan. Thanks to this website this is her first album that I have listened to in full.

It is a decent enough album, with a couple of standout tracks, but it wasn't enough to grab my attention. Simply put, her music is not my cup of tea - even if there isn't much wrong with the songwriting and musicianship on Brave And Crazy. That all said, my standout tracks were You Can Sleep While I Drive and Royal Station 4/16.


Final score: 6.46 (39 votes cast, total score 252)

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