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Melissa Etheridge tells it all

(ran GB edition)

There are no more secrets in Melissa Etheridge's life. The singer lets it all hang out in a candid new album, Skin, and autobiography, The Truth Is . . . Both stem from extensive therapy sessions for Etheridge, whose confessional style may shock some observers but is her plea for balance after a devastating breakup with longtime lover Julie Cypher, with whom she parents two children fathered by hippie-rocker David Crosby.

The new album, Skin, is where Etheridge poured most of her urgency _ and it happens to be her best record in years. Sooner or later we all end up walking alone, sings Etheridge, who justifies her image as a female Bruce Springsteen in songs that could well have fit onto Springsteen's signature disc The River.

I'm back on the stage looking for a little salvation, sings Etheridge. Or, as she sings in the album's final track, Heal Me: Lift me, take me to the other side, drop me in, let me swim, let everyone know I'll be coming home again. (The song also has Meg Ryan and Laura Dern _ two Hollywood friends of Etheridge _ singing backup.)

Unlike Etheridge's last CD, the tepid Breakdown, Skin has more rock anthems of the kind she's famous for, such as Come to My Window and Bring Me Some Water. And there are stately tracks woven around drum loops, fused by Etheridge's need to purge her pain and move on, as in the first single, I Want to Be in Love. The video will star new girlfriend Tammy Lynn Michaels from the WB show Popular.

But Etheridge really strips away pretenses in her autobiography. It's an absorbing, often wrenching tale about how she grew up in Leavenworth, Kan., (where she claims her sister sexually abused her), before moving to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. She then went to Hollywood, where she found fame, fortune and a lesbian life that led her to such experiences as sitting in a hot tub with Cypher, Ellen DeGeneres and K.D. Lang (who is said to have had an affair with Cypher that nearly broke up Etheridge and Cypher earlier).

The book is juicy but comes from the heart. Etheridge doesn't know how to do it any other way. She has been rapped by some critics for being too open, but rarely has a celebrity autobiography been this engaging. It's a vital companion piece to the album and shows the genuine, loving side of Etheridge, who also cared for her father (a former high school teacher) before he died of cancer.

Etheridge spares no details. She talks about how then-president Bill Clinton "zoomed" in on Cypher when they first met and reveals how she and Cypher now have adjacent homes so their children, Bailey, 4, and Becket, 2, can walk back and forth at will. It's a different lifestyle, but one never doubts Etheridge's essential compassion.

Betts is ramblin' on

Dickey Betts was tossed out of the Allman Brothers Band last year amid allegations of excessive drinking and sloppy playing. Betts denied the charges, and he's been on a mission ever since to clear his name. His new Dickey Betts Band will play 65 shows this year and will shortly release a new CD, Let's Get Together. There's nothing wrong with his work ethic.

"I felt I had to get out and show people that I'm still on my feet," says Betts. "I think by now that people aren't buying (the negative rumors). The record speaks for itself, and my shows have been getting great reviews."

The new album includes several songs he was originally working up for the Allmans, including Tombstone Eyes and One Stop Be-bop. Another new tune, Here Come the Blues Again, has lyrics addressed to his former colleagues in the Allmans: Thirty years of heart and soul, we took it further than rock 'n' roll. We stood together through thick and thin; hey, we made the best of it all back then. Then I guess time finally took its toll, cut me deep, cut me cold. Brother against brother, one against the other. Ah, it looks like the end. Here come the blues again.

Betts does not expect to rejoin the Allmans, so he's going full tilt with his new band. Like the Allmans, it has two drummers, Frankie Lombardi and Mark Greenberg. It has a couple of new singers (Matt May and Matt Zeiner) to enhance his own vocals and a horn player, Chris Jensen, who is from the Bronx. And the group has also been doing some of the tunes that Betts performed with the Allmans, among them Ramblin' Man, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and Jessica.

As for his lifestyle, Betts makes no apology that he and some members of the band drink. "If you're looking for Pat Boone, don't look in our band," he says. "We have fun and we drink a few beers. I can't stay up with the youngsters anymore _ those days are over for me _ but we're a rock 'n' roll band. Everybody passes a jug."

Up next:OBITUARIES

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