10,000 Maniacs,
In My Tribe
(Elektra, 1987)

This really is an amazingly good album, filled with depth and passion and shaped by one of music's most distinct, compelling voices (Natalie Merchant). I actually bought this album long ago, before I had even heard any 10,000 Maniacs music. The name of the group had a certain appeal to me, and there is something about the cover and its enticing shade of purple that drew me to it.

Of course, what matters here is really the music, and I think this album reveals the very heart and soul of Merchant and the Maniacs. Not yet superstars, all of the musicians poured copious amounts of passion into each and every song, making this music both incredibly enchanting to the ears and compelling to the heart and mind. Merchant's unique voice is a beacon of soul-seeking enlightenment examining themes most artists (as well as most people) often shy away from. For example, "What's the Matter Here?" focuses on child abuse, "Don't Talk" addresses a struggling alcoholic and "Gun Shy" is a plaintive lament for a world in which soldiers are needed. "Cherry Tree," my favorite, is a song about the personal shame illiteracy can engender in a person, and it expresses such passion and joy in the prospect of learning that it could well serve as the de facto theme song for any adult literacy program. "Verdi Cries" is, quite simply, hauntingly beautiful. It is unfortunate (yet understandable) that the group's cover of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" was removed from later releases of the album because I quite enjoy it -- it's certainly much better than the original.

"About the Weather" is really the only song I remember ever getting playing time on the radio, but there are at least half a dozen songs on here that I find even more enjoyable. R.E.M. fans might be interested to know that Michael Stipe lends his voice (albeit rather briefly) to "A Campfire Song." I can't get very excited about "My Sister Rose," but every other song on the album is simply fabulous.

Merchant's devotion to the music is beyond question, considering the fact that she essentially collapsed from exhaustion during the tour that followed this impeccable album's release. It's almost impossible to get tired of any of these songs, no matter how many times you listen to them.

by Daniel Jolley
19 November 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.