Ushering In the Era of Estrogen

With songs from Liz Phair, Emmylou Harris and Luscious Jackson, among (many) others.

It's a shame that singer/ songwriter Sarah McLachlan has decided that

this summer's Lilith Fair will be the last. These two CDs provide proof that

Lilith has managed to transcend the formulaic drudgery of the past two

years' testosterone-fueled summer concert circuit.

The 28 songs chosen from 1998's live performances roam all over the

geographic and aural map, ranging from Berlin-born Me'Shell Ndegeocello's

ebullient paean to '70s soul (aptly titled "Soul Record") to the U.K.

trip-hop combo Morcheeba's psychedelic groove, "The Sea." Listening to songs

like these, it's easy to picture a sea of grrls turned toward the stage,

swaying in unison under the midday sun.

Lilith Fair was designed to give female artists more exposure in a

male-dominated music industry. It worked beautifully, managing to out-gross

both Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E. But McLachlan announced in late April that

the end is in sight. "We always had a three-year plan right from the start,

and this is going to be the last year in North America for a good long

while," McLachlan said. "It comes from realizing that we're all well into

our '30s, and some of us want to have babies."

Babies aside, Lilith seemed to offer concertgoers a genuine sense of

community, at least for one day. Hey, that's a better return than usual on

one's concert dollar, and by the evidence here, the music alone was worth

the price of admission. Luscious Jackson's "Naked Eye"

(RealAudio excerpt) skitters and dips, evoking a groovy mood with the

insistent chorus, "It feels all right/ It feels all right." Less successful

is Natalie Merchant's cover of "In the

Ghetto"; but, to be fair, the song's lyrics are so ridiculous and

overwrought that even Elvis couldn't pull them off.

Lisa Loeb's performance of "I Do" is casual to the point of lethargy. Better

is Liz Phair's "Never Said"

(RealAudio excerpt), in which the singer comes across like your cool

big sister who's home from college and showing off her newfound grown-up skills. Tracy Bonham's "Meat Hook" is a welcome, raucous interlude, while the Cowboy Junkies' "Miles From Our Home" is pleasant, if unchallenging.

Less successful efforts include Rebekah's "Little Black Girl" -- with

labored lyrics like "It's a minor miracle just to make the graduation when

no one in your world gives you a hint of validation" -- and the instantly

forgettable "Kiss Me" from Sixpence None the Richer. The latter tune

seems ideally suited for a bathroom/ beer break.

But there are transcendent moments scattered throughout, notably Queen

Latifah's uplifting "Life"

(RealAudio excerpt) and McLachlan's duet with Emmylou Harris on the

spine-tingling "Angel." Holly McFarland's "Elmo" is a rousing rocker and

N'Dea Davenport's rendition of "Underneath a Red Moon" is smoothly

satisfying, thanks mainly to the thick honey of her voice.

After awhile, the female voices here all start to blur into one, but on the

whole, this chronicle of the Lilith Fair is both a worthy souvenir for those

who were there and a snapshot of the event for those who missed it.