Amid the sudden surge of serious young women solo artists that gripped the record industry in the early ’90s, Melissa Ferrick was hardly ignored, but her gripping and honest music was unjustly overlooked. Classically trained (she was a violin prodigy and later attended the Berklee School of Music on a trumpet scholarship), Ferrick took up guitar in college and got her big break in 1991, when she was invited to open for Morrissey at a Boston date. Although she was a total unknown outside the local club scene, Morrissey liked her so much he took Ferrick along for the rest of the tour, including a stop at New York’s Madison Square Garden that had contract-toting label execs tripping over themselves to get backstage first.
Produced by Gavin MacKillop, Massive Blur showcases Ferrick’s powerful, dramatic voice and a broad stylistic reach. Her songs are pensive and rocking, direct and oblique, often about relationships but not strictly romantic ones. “Hello Dad,” a harrowing portrait of an undemonstrative, alcoholic father (who Ferrick said was fictional), is heartbreaking (“You can’t fool me/Because I know/I know that you still love me”). But she’s capable of humor as well. After the album failed to ignite commercially, Ferrick wrote, performed and even recorded (for a promo single) “The Juliana Hatfield Song,” a good-natured lament about her lack of commercial success in comparison to that of her labelmate and pal.
Ferrick came out upon the release of Willing to Wait, and her sophomore effort is a vastly different album. Stripped down and gentler, it’s much closer to her Boston coffeehouse roots than Massive Blur. Still, “Willing to Wait” blends a Crazy Horse-style stomp with the tortured Celtic warble of Sinéad O’Connor, while the upbeat “Falling on Fists” and “I Am Done” also have plenty of kick. Most of Ferrick’s songs are directed at lovers who have done her wrong, but her album-opening declaration that “I want to be/Better than I am” sets a tone that prevents even the album’s darkest moments from sinking into desolation.