Natalie Merchant

Review: The Music of Natalie Merchant

Neil Young sings a song with the line: singing a song won’t change the world! I do not necessarily agree as sometimes the song will add public and high-profile voice to issues. But that could be what he meant.

The issues that people need to take a stand on are endless. People do need to speak up and not be silenced for fear of speaking out. I have witnessed so many people in this category of being silent when it would have been timely, and maybe risky, to express a point of view publicly or in support of others.

There have been many times that people in music have voiced concerns of a social and political nature. They have taken a personal stand, and therefore have taken a risk.

Steve Earle went out on a limb when his country went to war in Iraq. He stood out at the time as most chose to be silent. He definitely didn’t make friends at the time and the media were very savage about his stance. To them to have an opposite view to the Bush Administration and the war on terror was deemed to be UN-American. Several critics slammed the record for its questionable music while it was obvious that Steve’s messages were too close to home. For example, there’s Jerusalem and Conspiracy Theory and then the one that hit home for too many, John Walker’s Blues.

Musicians who produce music that express their personal and political commitments are not numerous. There’s lots of pop and superficial sounds on offer. Having said that, some of it, although superficial, can be fun music.

There is nothing like listening to someone who is has one of those voices and through their singing and songs you feel their personal commitments. Many folk singers sound serious and have fine but ordinary voices.

Then there are the exceptions. I can remember the first time I heard Maddy Prior. Now there was a voice.

Natalie Merchant is one such person. While her music has a contemporary singer songwriter rock sound,  it is very often a contemporary folk sound. Especially recently with her Leave Your Sleep album.

Natalie Merchant was lead singer for the alternative rock/ folk rock band, 10,000 Maniacs. She left the band in 1994 and has since produced several wonderful albums. For most it is usually stated that her best was in 1995, Tigerlilly. I agree about it being a great album, but I favour the later, 2003 The House Carpenter’s Daughter. This later album is a reinterpretation of traditional and contemporary folk music. Her interpretations of these songs, and of course her voice on this album, I highly recommend.

She has a fabulous, if not unique voice. Every time I play her music, her voice hits me. I have watched online many live concerts of hers and each time she puts together a great band to compliment her singing. The lyrics, whether hers or a reinterpretation, take you to that other place.

Listen to these two below; they are from her 2010 album based on her reinterpretation of a collection of fables and children’s stories. The album is called Leave Your Sleep (double album).

Equestrienne from the 2010 album Leave Your Sleep


Nursery Rhyme of Innocent and Experience


Natalie Merchant has committed publicly to several major advocacy movements. One was to do with domestic violence for which, among other things, she has held special concerts.

On the question of her own state’s environment and what the coal companies are doing to it, as they are here in Australia, Natalie Merchant joined forces with others to ask Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in New York


and here’s a couple more songs to let you in on how wonderful Natalie Merchant is:

Wonder from her album Tigerlilly.


Natalie sings the Cowboy Junkie song: To Love Is To Bury


an early 10,000 Maniacs songs: Hey Jack Karouac/ Eat for Two


and doing a Beatles son: Nowhere Man

and finally here’s Natalie Merchant’s own web site.



The early 10,000 Maniacs music; In My tribe, 1987, being the best.

There are good compilations, with the recommendation being: Campfire Songs 2004.

Natalie Merchant: Top recommendation for these two albums, but I would listen to any:

Tigerlilly 1995. Rating 8/10

2003 The House Carpenter’s Daughter. Rating 9/10

and finally I am still listening to all of Leave Your Sleep. There’s some great stuff on the two discs. I may update this later. Interim Rating 8/10


Paul Costigan, 19 January 2014


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