NATALIE MERCHANT “Natalie Merchant” CD


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Were she more prolific, Natalie Merchant would probably be regarded in the first tier of American singer-songwriters, alongside such poetic mavericks as Tom Waits and Randy Newman. She rose to prominence with the folk-inflected Eighties rock of 10,000 Maniacs but her solo career has offered something deeper and richer. This is her first album of original material in 13 years (there have been covers and children’s songs) and it resonates with class.

There is something quietly magnificent about her vocal presence, always perfectly set in unshowy arrangements that blend organic instrumentation with sombre yet luxurious orchestral shading. She evokes a more soulful Joan Baez, balancing sensuous languor with austere seriousness. It could almost be coffee-table smooth were it not for the spiky intelligence of her writing, drawing you into piercing character studies that thicken with each musical brushstroke. Every phrase seems properly accounted for.