In its own earnest, peasant-skirted, incense-dosed manner, last year’s Lilith Fair tour forcefully shoved a number of lessons down the throats of the music industry. It proved, for instance, that an all-women tour could (a) be taken seriously, (b) attract large crowds and make a profit, (c) embody not merely the heightened status of women in pop but also the new sincerity and romanticism of the post-alt-rock universe, and (d) attract men, even if they were goobers who came to ogle Jewel.
Now comes the souvenir, ”Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music,” a double-disc compilation recorded at various stops on the tour and featuring 26 of its participants. (It?s also a semi-benefit album, with half the proceeds going to rape, abuse, incest, and AIDS organizations.) It turns out we can learn a thing or two from the album as well, including lessons not even troop leader Sarah McLachlan may have intended.
A dose of indie rock would have been nice: Grrrl rockers were dubious of Lilith, and not simply because of its prissy name. Acting as if distaff punkers like Sleater-Kinney and Fluffy didn?t exist, the organizers leaned toward musicians who specialized in genteel, touchy-feely, sensitivity- session pop. Lilith did, on occasion, rock?the show I caught featured a blistering, gritted-teeth set by Juliana Hatfield. Alas, the album?s idea of energy amounts to clunky, mannered arena rock from Meredith Brooks and Tracy Bonham or the overly placid indie pop of September 67. Exception: the Wild Colonials? bounding ?Charm.?
The tour truly was Lilith-white: Another criticism leveled at Lilith was that it served up genteel, touchy-feely, sensitivity-session white pop. Again, the discs support this carping all too well?they?re dominated by encounters with intent, humorless folkies of the Caucasian kind. Dar Williams takes us through her therapy sessions in ?What Do You Hear in These Sounds,? while a wan, verse-trading rendition of the folk song ?The Water Is Wide? (with McLachlan, Jewel, and the Indigo Girls) is the stuff of Pottery Barn in-store playlists. Organizers may have to hire more paramedics for this summer?s tour; the slew of soul sisters joining in, including Erykah Badu and Missy Elliott, could give the audience a collective heart attack.
Not everyone, male or female, knows what?s best for a compilation: It?s one thing to celebrate ?the diverse mix? of the tour by concentrating on up-and-comers. It?s another to omit some of the most prominent Lilithites?Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman?in favor of pale-voiced Jewel imitators and rockers whose idea of roots is Pat Benatar. Plus, the big wheels who are here, like Cole, Brooks, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Shawn Colvin, and Suzanne Vega, aren?t represented by their best-known, or best, songs. The ultimate lesson to be gleaned is dispiritingly simple: As an album, Lilith is only fair.