Here we are, just eight months into Y2K, and already K-Tel has presented us with a collection of songs by “21st Century Women.” Not only is it presumptuous to attempt defining a century before it even happens, but it is highly patronizing to slap a bunch of unrelated songs on a CD simply because they were recorded by female artists. Just imagine a CD of “21st Century Men.” Quite likely, a pitch for such a project would get most record executives laughed out of the boardroom.
Despite the fact that the entire concept behind After the Fair demonstrates how far women artists have to go, the music itself is generally impressive. K-Tel has wisely assembled the tracks to flow fairly smoothly in spite of their stylistic differences. The compilation commences on a down-note, however, with Leah Andreone’s whiny “It’s Alright, It’s OK,” which brings to mind such evil-doers as Alanis Morissette and Tracy Bonham. Luckily, things get considerably brighter with some first-rate ethereal pop by Tara MacLean, Dot Allison, and Lisa Germano. None of it is ground-breaking (Kate Bush, Sinead O’Connor, and Tori Amos have all done this before, and better), but it is pleasing in its own VH-1 way.
Heather Duby’s “Judith” is considerably more aggressive, with funky beats and dissonant guitars. Her plaintive, childlike vocals are a compelling contrast to the rough-edged music, making for one of After the Fair‘s most sonically adventurous tracks. Natcha Atlas also does a unique turn with the jazzy “Mon Amie La Rose,” but her eccentricity seems terribly out of place, as it could hardly be called representative of the new generation of female artists.
While N’dea Davenport is the only nominally funky chick present, country music is nicely represented by the likes of Lucinda Williams and Amy Rigby, who also provide some good-natured man-bashing. Indie rock, too, is well-represented by Juliana Hatfield, Kristin Hersh, Sleater-Kinney, and relative newcomer Jen Wood.
Ultimately, this is a decent set of tunes that isn’t going to find much of an audience. While its diversity is supposed to be its selling point, it also ensures that the disc will fully satisfy no one. And, like most compilations, After the Fair ignores artists who are better known and more important simply because it was too expensive to get the rights to more popular songs, or the artists declined to be included. For a better overview of women’s accomplishments in 20th century music, seek out the box set Respect: A Century of Women in Music. As for 21st century women, we’ll just have to wait a hundred years before judging.