Melissa Etheridge

It's best to peel off the celebrity skin when considering Melissa Etheridge. Sure, she became tabloid fodder when former lover Julie Cypher bore two children thanks to David Crosby's seed, not to mention when she got engaged last year to current companion Tammy Lynn Michaels. And yes, she's a fervent activist for gay rights and her songs comment on her -- at least to some -- rather unconventional love life. But underneath it all is a high-wattage rocker's '70s-style heart.

Etheridge's music packs arena-rock consciousness into every song. The notes and changes display nearly Wagnerian dram; her lyrics play like slogans; and her crushed-gravel voice all but epitomizes the postadolescent struggle for love, autonomy and respect. And even if her new CD, Lucky, is an ode to love, Etheridge still plays it all with a life-or-death urgency. Pack such flick-yer-Bic, punch-the-sky rock into a club setting, as she's doing on her current tour, and you get a sweaty evening of old-school, save-your-soul rock and roll.

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Rob Patterson