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Spotlights [Issue # 6 ]
Sarah McLachlan: Life In The Afterglow

By Peter Vouras


Why did it take so long between records? The answer is," says three-time Grammy-winning Canadian-born singer/songwriter and philanthropist Sarah McLachlan of the six-year hiatus since her last studio album, 1997's Surfacing, "that I was just living my life. I lost a mother, and I became a mother."

McLachlan's signature, stunning modal-falsetto vocals have been instantly recognizable since her 1988 debut, Touch, and she has since sold over 25 million albums worldwide. Her all-female multi-artist Lilith Fair tour raised more than $7 million for charity in its three-year run, and earned her the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Visionary award in 1998 for her efforts on behalf of women in music. And for three years now, she has funded the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach Program, which offers free classes to inner city youths whose schools have slashed music instruction from their budgets. Of the gratification that comes from being a positive force in children's lives, she says, "It feels so good . . . there's hardly any joy comparable."

Hardly any joy except motherhood itself, which came for McLachlan under the most bittersweet of circumstances; a while back, within the space of five months, she lost her mother to cancer, and then gave birth to her daughter, India. It is her experience of these two souls' respective passing and emergence that defines the songs of her new release, Afterglow, and it is to her mother and daughter that McLachlan dedicates the album. As McLachlan offers the literal meaning of the title, its poignancy is clear: "It is the glow or light that remains once the sun is gone . . . it is a very transitional moment."

Having throughout her career, both in her music and in interviews, expressed a deeply personal attraction toward the exploration of life's inherent dualities, McLachlan here highlights gleaming threads of hope and joy even in the shroud of deepest loss, while gradually adjusting her gaze with admirable grace and openness to the unfamiliar light which bathes her entirely re-defined existence.

The opening track and first single, "Fallen," cradles the listener in a soft, richly-woven fabric of harmony even as it thematically plunges toward the underworld in the freefall from stable reality into unknown territory, from self-assurance and optimism into self-doubt and despair. "World on Fire" and "Stupid" both splash brilliant, warm tonal strokes across the horizon, the former painting McLachlan caught beneath a burning landscape and a falling sky, and the latter finding her "weak and starving for mercy . . . in this burning desert" and featuring the album's edgiest guitar and drums (by long-time producer Pierre Marchand and her husband, percussionist Ashwin Sood).

A favorite track of McLachlan's, "Answer," is the album's end, where cooler colors predominate - in her words, the song is "a total two o'clock in the morning, whispered-in-your-ears headphone track" which in its spare, gentle radiance offers reassurance that the falling night still holds the promise of tomorrow: "When the stars have all burned out/You'll still be burning so bright/Cast me gently into the morning for the night has been unkind."

In the past, McLachlan has referred to her music as her form of therapy - on Afterglow, once again, she strikes universally relevant, emotionally evocative chords even on her most private personal journeys.


Afterglow
Arista

Life In The Afterglow Sarah McLachlan Afterglow


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