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THE FIRST time I saw Sarah McLachlan, she was a skinny, nervous young lady, standing backstage at Melody Fair, clutching a cup of coffee and shivering on a cool summer night. It was nearly five years ago and she had just finished opening for Blue Rodeo.

McLachlan has come a long way since then and today is among the most intriguing musical artists in the world.

McLachlan scales another career height with her new CD, "Surfacing."

This record showcases a musician and songwriter in full flower. McLachlan, the driving force behind the highly successful Lilith Fair summer tour featuring female performers, displays intellectual and creative maturity in a moving and emotional album.

McLachlan's fragile and revealing vocal on "I Love You" is inspiring. Her tender voice is enhanced by an acoustic guitar as she sings, "I cannot find the words to say I need you so."

"Building a Mystery," the opening track, finds McLachlan in a brooding mood searching for spiritual meaning. The lyrics provide a surreal touch to a song that presents more questions than answers to the puzzle of life.

McLachlan admits the album is a journey of self-discovery and honesty.

"It's about me finally growing up and facing ugly things about myself," she said in a press statement. "We all have a dark side; it's bull to say that we don't. At some point we're going to have to face that."

McLachlan comes to terms with letting go of pride and ego in the name of love on "Sweet Surrender," a soft rocker about unrequited love. "I only hope that I won't disappoint you," McLachlan sings in a tone of wistful remorse.

"Do What You Have to Do" is a bittersweet ballad about emotional loss and a failed relationship. "Witness" is another personal insight about self-discovery. "Angel" confronts the horrors of heroin and begins with a quiet piano. The song showcases McLachlan's aching vocals about yearning for a second chance.

McLachlan had a simple goal with the album, and it reflects her current state of mind.

"I've learned to trust myself, to listen to truth, to not be afraid of it and to not try and hide it," she said.

McLachlan, like Joni Mitchell, has been able to transform life experience into an essential part of her music. "Full of Grace" and "Last Dance," the final two tracks on the album, are spare and eloquent testaments to her personal and artistic growth.

The young girl from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has turned into a performer of grace and depth. She has evolved not only as a writer but also a singer. "Surfacing" is a vivid testament to McLachlan's musical maturity. Rating: 1/2 .


By alternative singer Sarah McLachlan.

Arista 18970-2.

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