- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

Vocalist Jane Olivor takes another step down Comeback Road Saturday night with a live performance at the Birchmere in support of "Love Decides," her first studio recording in more than 17 years.

Miss Olivor was compared to Barbra Streisand and Edith Piaf when she released her critically acclaimed debut album, "First Night," back in 1976. Then in her late 20s and living in New York, Miss Olivor had only been singing in public, mostly in small, downtown singles bars, for about three years when she landed her recording contract with Columbia Records.

Undaunted by her relative inexperience, the label pushed to turn the talented singer into a star. Within three years of her debut, Miss Olivor had played Carnegie Hall, starred in a PBS special and performed for sold-out crowds at the Kennedy Center, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and practically every other large concert hall from Chicago to Sydney, Australia. Many artists dream of having such a rapidly ascending career trajectory. For Miss Olivor, however, it nearly caused a breakdown.

"At that time, everyone thought, 'Start at the top and go up.' It was like being shot out of a cannon and into being a star," she says by phone from friend's house near the Potomac in Virginia.

"But you can't take on the world with only a couple of years' experience. I didn't know my talent. I didn't know much of the songs. Everyone else in this business had had enough experience to get onstage and be comfortable. Everyone was having a good time except for me I had stage fright all of those years."

Eight years into her galloping career, which included a 1979 Oscar-nominated song for her duet with Johnny Mathis, "The Last Time I Felt Like This" (the theme for the movie, "Same Time Next Year"), Miss Olivor decided to jump off the horse for a little while.

Her planned one-year hiatus in 1983 was extended so she could nurse her new husband, who was diagnosed with cancer just six months after they were married. After his death in 1986, Miss Olivor says she still was not ready to return to performing and instead left New York City and moved to Florida. There she had a second adolescence, in a way. And although she became, as one critic said, the Amelia Earhart of pop music, Miss Olivor insists: "I didn't destroy a career; I saved my sanity."

Her fans, however, did not forget her. When Miss Olivor finally decided to start singing again in 1991, she booked herself a small gig at a hotel lounge.

"The man put an ad in the paper and misspelled my name, and yet people showed up. I was shocked," she says.

This time around, at age 53, Miss Olivor is taking the slow track back into the limelight, and that's fine with her.

"I'm so much more prepared and so much happier this time around," says Miss Olivor, who now lives in Maryland she won't say exactly where with her two dogs, Lucy and Scooter. "I feel like I'm flying here. This is the way I've always wanted it to be."

When she performs at the Birchmere on Saturday night, she'll be accompanied by a piano. She says she'll sing a few songs from her new album, as well as her hits, including "The Last Time I Felt Like This,""L'Importante" and "One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round."

"Most of the songs I sing were written for me or found for me," she says. "My music is a real wonderful mixture of romance and hope and pop and folk. It's a real tapestry. You mix it up, and it comes out Jane Olivor."

Motown recording artist Erykah Badu, 29, whose quadruple-platinum CD "Mama's Gun" has been nominated for two Grammys this year, will spend Monday and Tuesday onstage at Constitution Hall. Onstage, Miss Badu has a funky presence spiked with sassy attitude and plenty of incense sticks. Expect an impassioned, eclectic mix of hits from her previous two releases the groundbreaking 1997 debut CD "Baduizm" and her last CD release, "Live" as well as "Mama's Gun" and, if you're lucky, a Chaka Khan cover or two.

The singer, who redefined R&B; music with "Baduizm," is also on a comeback trail of her own since taking time off to care for her 3-year-old son Seven (a name she chose because, she says, "it is a number that cannot be divided"). In the three years since she released "Live," the neo-soul territory she pioneered has been further staked out by other female artists such as Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray and Jill Scott.

Nevertheless, Miss Badu finds more boundaries to push past from the first track, from the hard-rolling "Penitentiary Philosophy" all the way through to the last, a minisuite titled "Green Eyes," which she says is about her breakup with rapper Andrew Benjamin of Outkast, who is also Seven's father.

The first single, "Bag Lady," has already reached No. 1 on Billboard's R&B;/hip-hop singles chart and may earn Miss Badu her fourth and fifth Grammys later this month in the categories of best female R&B; vocal performance and best R&B; song.

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