Live Album From The Queen Of The Lilith Fair

No hyperbole here -- she really does sing like an angel.

The truly excellent live album is a rare beast. While it's fairly common

for artists to trot one out when the creative well or bankbook goes dry,

the live album that doesn't leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth is

unusual in the extreme. Even the ones that have some staying power --

Roxy Music's Heart Still Beating, Neil Young's Rust Never

Sleeps -- tend to be remembered more for their time-capsule quality

than for any actual musical breakthrough.

Sarah McLachlan freely admits that she came out with Mirrorball

because she didn't have a new record in her just now -- but don't hold

that against her. "I'm probably going to take a year off, if not more,

over the next year and the year 2000," she says on her website. "I think

I have a really incredible and tight band. The main reason is wanting to

document that and capture some of that great energy." In concert, her

band does come across as a finely honed instrument, but it's McLachlan's

voice and songwriting that are the real stars.

Mirrorball was culled from 35 shows in the early part of 1998, on

a tour promoting McLachlan's hit album Surfacing. This record's

14 songs capture the thrilled reaction of her fans without letting the

roar of the crowd distract from the music. Still, from the first note of

the opening track ("Building a Mystery" [RealAudio excerpt])

those in attendance are roaring their collective approval. You can't

really blame them: Not only is it a great song, but McLachlan's in her

prime, with her voice a perfectly tuned tool that growls and soars,

hitting every note with an assurance that's breathtaking.

McLachlan sounds a bit defensive when explaining her decision to come

out with this record, but there's no need for any hesitance on her part.

While she's clearly worried that some fans might come away feeling

short-changed, she's gone to great lengths to be sure they get their

money's worth, explaining, "I felt if you are going to do something

live you should try to change it around a little bit." And the tracks on

Mirrorball each meet that criteria, primarily due to the strength

McLachlan derives from performing before an audience and feeding off her

fans' reactions.

The song "Adia" is a lovely vehicle for the singer's voice, showcasing

her passion with warm tones and soaring trills. The sound is technically

superb, with clear, crisp production and enough roughness left in the

mix to avoid sounding slick. "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy" (RealAudio excerpt)

is delicately rendered, and "Possession" (RealAudio excerpt)

manages to be a rollicking ballad. While McLachlan might not quite reach the lofty realm of Rust Never

Sleeps in the live album lexicon, Mirrorball is a more than

respectable addition to the genre.