Melissa Etheridge — the two-time Grammy winner and Oscar winner whose 1993 album, “Yes I Am,” sold 6 million copies — hasn’t played in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. She’s making a belated return Monday for a show at the Saenger Theatre.
Etheridge, the singer whose gritty, passionate hits include “Bring Me Some Water,” “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window,” previously appeared at the Saenger, House of Blues and, as opening act for The Eagles, at the Superdome.
“I’ve played all over New Orleans,” she said last week before a show in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“The thing I remember the most about the Superdome,” Etheridge recalled, “is it felt like I was playing in and looking at a cruise ship. It’s so big in there. I’m a huge football fan, so I’m a big fan of the Dome anyway.”
Etheridge’s “This is M.E.” tour set list features her hits, of course, and songs from her recently released, likewise titled new album.
“It’s very important to me to find creative ways to play our new songs and our hits,” she said. “I’ve studied audiences for a long time. You can perform new music for them and still keep their attention. This show seems to work really well. A lot of fans have the new music and they enjoy it.”
Etheridge truly believes in her album, “This is M.E.”
“Yeah, this is me, this is Melissa Etheridge,” she said. “It’s a simple title that refers to the overall nature of the album. It’s got all of my influences, from rock ’n’ roll to country to pop and R&B and soul. All of me is in this record.”
Etheridge took a new approach in the studio for “This is M.E.”
“Usually, I write all the songs and then go in the studio with a producer,” she said. “Then we work the songs up together. But this time we created the songs from the ground up. It was thrilling and a little scary. The result is some of my best work, I think, because I didn’t overthink anything.”
Etheridge tends to be her own harshest critic.
“But when I collaborate, people look at me and say, ‘That’s perfect. Don’t change that,’ ” she said. “It becomes easier and clearer. And the music really shines through these songs.”
The various producers Etheridge worked with for “This is M.E.” include Grammy winner Jerry Wonda. His previous clients include rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop acts The Fugees, Mary J. Blige and Akon. The singer sees the results of the collaboration as a new kind of music for her.
“This sort of urban rock is what I’m talking about,” she said. “It comes from the same emotional, rhythmic place as soul, R&B, hip-hop and rock ’n’ roll. When we combined it all, it was thrilling for everybody.”
Following the completion of “This is M.E.,” Etheridge asked Wonda to tour with her and assemble a band.
“He’s a bass player and an amazing musician,” she said of the producer. “And I had such a great experience with him doing those couple of songs for the album.”
Including herself, Etheridge’s touring group features seven people. Performing with the group, she said, “is an amazingly fun time and the audiences are going crazy.”
Inspired by her confidence in the “This is M.E.” album, Etheridge said, “I wanted to treat it like my early albums. What got people interested in me was word of mouth about my shows. I went from city to city and the album sales went up. I still believe in that.
“In this day and age, of course, the record industry is crazy. So this is my independent album. I’m doing it on my own. And I really think the best way I can reach people is by going to their towns and performing and them feeling the record.”