Now, I have been known to enjoy a bit of 10 000 Maniacs in the past but I never really got into them in any kind of big way and they were never top of my list when it came to choosing what got played next, so when Natalie Merchant’s eponymous album landed on my virtual doorstep, courtesy of HIGHRESAUDIO and on the Nonesuch Records label, I never put two and two together and connected her with the aforementioned Maniacs. I also must admit that I’ve not heard any of Natalie Merchant’s solo stuff since she quit the band in ’93…this may have been somewhat remiss of me I think!
All of the tunes on this album are her own and it’s her first collection of original tunes since the Motherland album of 2001 and from the opening bars of the first track, “Ladybird” it’s clear that you are in the presence of a singer songwriter of quite awesome talent. This is not my usual fare I admit, but this record just oozes talent and “Ladybird” is a fitting opener. It’s the tale of a woman stuck in a loveless marriage and it’s very poignant (and somewhat autobiographical?) indeed.
The album is folk/country tinged pop with smatterings of gospel thrown in for good measure and is of the highest quality, aimed squarely at a more mature (in age and life experience) audience. The mood is reflective and melancholic with Merchant’s vocal style being at once powerful and then somewhat restrained which adds to the overall atmosphere and tone of the record.
Production really is superb, as is the musicianship, and I can see that there will be a good few hifi dealers using this record at shows and demos to demonstrate what their kit is capable of. That’s not to say it’s dull in anyway – something I moan about when speaking about music being played at shows!
Of the eleven tracks on Natalie Merchant I can truthfully say that there is not one hint of filler in evidence and it all holds together as a whole…indeed I suggest playing it in one sitting rather than flicking through tracks. Picking out favourites is difficult, but the sad and touching “Lulu”, a tribute to silent film star Louise Brooks who refused to play by the rules of Hollywood and fell into penniless obscurity, is particularly good.
Natalie Merchant is a great record and I’m sure you will enjoy it a great deal, as I have, if you enjoy well produced, beautifully sung, intelligent music tha moves on both the musical level as well as the lyrical. Really recommended!

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