Since her debut in 1988, Sarah McLachlan’s atmospheric folk-pop has gained a devoted following of fans not only in her native Canada, where she established star status with her first album, but also in the U.S. and U.K. The following two decades saw her growing both as a musician and songwriter, continually redefining herself and emerging as a major voice in the growing adult alternative pop format. She also founded Lilith Fair, a concert tour that helped usher other female songwriters into the mainstream during the late-’90s, while maintaining her own presence on the charts.
McLachlan was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on January 28, 1968, where she took vocal training in addition to classical piano and guitar lessons as a child. Following a year of art training at the Nova Scotia School of Design, McLachlan (who had also been fronting a new wave band named October Game) was approached by Nettwerk Records and offered a solo deal. She initially turned it down in favor of continued studies; however, she reconsidered and accepted the offer in late 1987, relocating to Vancouver soon after. On the strength of her debut, 1988′s Touch, the budding songwriter was signed to Arista for international distribution. The album eventually reached gold status in Canada and was reissued worldwide in 1989. In 1991, she followed up with Solace, an impressive collection that showed a great leap in songcraft and began to build a strong cult following in the U.S.
In September 1992, following a 14-month promotional tour, McLachlan traveled to Cambodia and Thailand to work on World Vision, a Canadian-sponsored documentary on poverty and child prostitution. Inspired by her experiences, she retreated to a secluded house outside of Montreal to write material for her next album. After six months in a Montreal studio with collaborator/producer Pierre Marchand, she released Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, her strongest and most personal effort to date, in late 1993. The album peaked in the U.S. charts at number 50; by the end of 1994, it reached platinum status after spending 62 weeks on the chart. “Possession,” an atmospheric single that mixed electronica flourishes with lyrics inspired by a stalker, broke the Top 100 and received considerable airplay, especially on modern rock radio, where it peaked at number 14. “Good Enough” also found a home in that format, reaching number 16. The Freedom Sessions, consisting mainly of alternate versions of tracks from Fumbling, arrived in 1995; that same year also saw the release of “I Will Remember You,” which McLachlan wrote as the theme for Brothers McMullen. Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff, a collection of non-LP tracks and remixes, was issued in Canada in 1996.
In 1997, McLachlan began work on her fourth album, the enormously successful Surfacing, which debuted at number two on the pop albums chart. She also organized the Lilith Fair tour, a package tour focusing on emerging women singer/songwriters. Released in 1999, the multi-platinum Mirrorball chronicled McLachlan’s performances on that tour and was her first live release. In 2003, after a short hiatus from the business, she put out the successful Afterglow, followed by the live CD/DVD Afterglow Live. The album eventually went four-times platinum, the DVD double platinum, and McLachlan continued to tour through 2005. In June of that year she performed on the Philadelphia stage of Live 8, the multi-city anniversary celebration of Live Aid and G8 summit protest coordinated by Live Aid founder Bob Geldof. In August she released Bloom, her second remix collection. While most of its material was drawn from Afterglow, it also included a version of the 1989 McLachlan track “Vox” and a previously unreleased collaboration with DMC and Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am. In 2006 Mirrorball: The Complete Concert, which captured the entirety of the last date on her 1998 tour, came out, as well as Wintersong, a collection of both traditional and modern Christmas covers (plus a new song, the title cut). - Chris Woodstra