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Album Review: Natalie Merchant – Natalie Merchant

2 min read

Natalie Merchant, best known as the lead singer for US alternative band 10,000 Maniacs and for a solo career that generated hits like 1995’s Carnival, has released her first album of original material in more than a decade.

NatalieMerchant-AlbumAfter devoting her efforts towards raising a family, environmentalism and other causes, the 50-year-old singer-songwriter-producer tackles topics like love, loss, destruction and triumph on this self-titled album. The decision to not name this album after a significant album track or lyric suggests that this album is a statement of who Natalie Merchant is today, three decades into her musical career.

Merchant’s vocals are subdued, yet rich, untarnished and self-assured despite many years in the music industry. She can both coo (Texas features a subtle vibrato that permits the track to glisten like water under moonlight) and belt her words (especially on the album closer The End where Merchant matches a powerful string quartet).

Her finely balanced, feminine and warm production welcomes listeners like a comforting hug. Strings dominate the album, allowing tracks to breathe and explode with passion like the rich yet delicate Giving Up Everything and the autumn-tinged, easy listening pleasantries of album opener Ladybird.

Water is a recurring theme of the album, from the muddy water conveyed in the chirpy, church-worthy New Orleans soul of Go Down Moses to the bloody water depicted in the whimsical twilight march of Seven Deadly Sins. It is a means of catharsis for Merchant, as if to cleanse herself of past mistakes and regrets.

The session musicians’ outstanding performances must also be noted, particularly on the mellow It’s A-Coming, which grooves and shuffles effortlessly like Hot Chocolate’s Every 1’s a Winner. The sinister tracks bite too. Maggie Said is a nihilistic soft rock ballad with grim lyrics about shallow graves and the struggle to achieve perfection. The brassy Black Sheep hints at inner demons, and would fit the soundtrack to an ‘American Horror Story’ episode soundtrack.

Natalie Merchant is a welcome collection of songs showing why Merchant succeeded in the first place as a member of 10,000 Maniacs and as a solo artist. It proves that the singer-songwriter-producer can still conjure compelling soundscapes that successfully unite the mundane and the majestic.