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Sarah McLachlan

Shine On

[Verve]

2 and 1/2 stars

It’s fair to say that Sarah McLachlan peaked early. Her 1993 effort “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” married the influences of Sinead O’Connor and Kate Bush to McLachlan’s inventive songwriting, sublime singing,and the then-edgy production of collaborator Pierre Marchand. It was a breathtakingly beautiful piece of work.

Like all groundbreaking works, “Ecstasy” was oft-imitated, and badly, to the point that, within a few years of its release, McLachlan sounded redundant simply because so many female singer-songwriters were imitating her.

In the years since, McLachlan has pretty much been in a holding pattern. She still works with Marchand – his signature sound is in ample evidence throughout the new “Shine On” – she still sings absolutely beautiful, and she still writes with poetic flair concerning matters of the human heart.

What is not in such ample evidence is anything resembling excitement or edge.

That’s not necessarily much of a criticism, nor is it likely a major problem for McLachlan’s biggest fans. They’ll be happy with beautifully crafted, grandiose ballads like “Broken Heart”; they might shed a tear over the heartrending, finger-picked elegy “Song for My Father”; they will marvel at the manner in which McLachlan wrings such nuance from the melody of “Brink of Destruction.”

And it will be enough.

– Jeff Miers