Artist Spotlight: Sarah McLachlan

Artist Spotlight courtesy of GAC

Subtitle: ‘She’s More Than Just Sad Puppies’

These days, it’s nearly impossible to bring up Sarah McLachlan without thinking of those tear-jerking ASPCA commercials with footage of abused and neglected animals. But even a decade ago, before that connection was hardwired into our collective consciousness, the song from those commercials—“Angel”—had already taken over McLachlan’s identity. Endlessly played on the air and dueted at event concerts, its dreamy slowness had become ubiquitous. However, it was not always so…

Like many others, I suspect, I was first introduced to McLachlan’s music via “Possession,” her first significant hit in the US, off of her 1993 album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. That song captures aspects of her sound that have long-since receded. Ethereal, a bit harder musically, and in the context of mid-nineties mainstream radio, even edgy (the lyrics are inspired by an actual stalker).

McLachlan’s first album, Touch (1988), oddly feels more current today than it did during her nineties heyday, given the resurgence of synthpop, which has a subtle presence in her formative sound. She released three studio albums during the nineties: Solace (1991), Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993) and Surfacing (1997), as well as a prominent live album, Mirrorball (1999) which was the capstone on her most successful stretch of time, during which she spearheaded the Lilith Fair tour, “A Celebration of Women In Music” that made its initial run in 1997. This decade saw her music becoming progressively more organic, for the most part.

But even as McLachlan was riding the wave of generally-rootsy, mid-nineties singer-songwriter music, the singles from Surfacing played out a metamorphosis-in-miniature. “Building A Mystery” is almost a spiritual and sonic sequel to “Possession,” “Sweet Surrender” clings to a final set of jagged edges as it surges into a dreamlike state, and “Adia” and “Angel” complete the elegant transformation.

The most recent of her studio albums, 2014’s Shine On (the others this century being Afterglow (2003) and Laws of Illusion (2010)), is in my experience a grower, gentle sounding and not immediately remarkable, but demonstrating depth and nuance over time. That is probably a good thing to be said about the work of a popular musical artist easing into her middle years. One simple, heartfelt track is “Song for My Father”:

Here are some other favorites of mine:

“Drawn to the Rhythm”

“Elsewhere” w/ Paula Cole (VH1 Storytellers)

“Wait” (Mirrorball Live)

…and for kicks, “Vox” (her first hit, complete with an ’80s synth-riff)

Does anyone have any Sarah memories, favorite songs or albums? Ever see her live?