I was vaguely aware of the 10,000 Maniacs – you couldn’t forget a band with a name like that – but knew little of their output expect the single Like The Weather from their 1987 album, so when I first heard one of the tracks from this album and discovered it was the same vocalist, it was a bit of a revelation.
This introduction was on a long-haul flight, from Bombay to Singapore in May 2000, and it was on one of those pre-packaged playlist “radio” stations you used to get on planes (or perhaps you still do, I haven’t taken a long haul flight for a while). My girlfriend at the time and I were rather taken with the track Beloved Wife, the live version from her then new release Live In Concert. So much so that it was one of only 3 tapes that we eventually bought later in Singapore to listen to on our travels. Before that, we had a shared radio cassette player between us so the music we chose had to suit us both, for every possible listening occasion.
Tigerlily is her debut album, which features Beloved Wife, along with some other stunners. San Andreas Fault the opening song, is really quite something, perfectly performed, a beautiful song that really should be far better known. Carnival is another highlight, which (according to Wikipedia) Aileen Wuornos, the American serial killer asked to be played at her funeral. Wonder is another beautiful well-crafted song, about one child of twins being born with a congenital disease, which later inspired a book of the same name, and then a film of the book starring Julia Roberts. But it all started with this song, such is its emotional power.
River is reportedly about River Phoenix, with the sympathetic lyrics: “Young and strong Hollywood son / In the early morning light, this star fell down /On sunset boulevard /Young and strong beautiful one /One that we embraced so close /Is gone”
Her voice is intimate, the music light and a bit AOR-ish but able to grow in intensity when needed, and sensitive to the mood she’s trying to convey. These are definitely ‘words first’ songs and carefully crafted. If you like your singer-songwriters in the classic vein, Natalie Merchant is a class act.
Best Bits: San Andreas Fault (Beloved Wife is actually better on the Live in Concert album imho)
Genre: Classic Singer-Songwriter
Like This, Try This: the closing titles of Nick Broomfield documentary on Aileen Wournos; Life and Death of a Serial Killer, featuring Natalie Merchant’s Carnival