Natalie Merchant,
(Elektra/WEA, 2001)

You'll get mixed reviews for this one, possibly because a lot of listeners expect something akin to the edgier, quirky pop of Natalie Merchant's first album -- and of course, her work with 10,000 Maniacs.

Motherland is a departure from the earlier pure-pop sound. It's a lot more rootsy, exploring a few different styles including gospel and blues.

Lyrically, her songs are well developed and evocative, while the insights she offers sound authentic. The song "Motherland" is stunning. It's definitely a standout and possibly one of Merchant's best compositions. It appears to describe a mother (perhaps the writer) considering the future of her "five & dime queen" -- what I take to be a portrayal of a little girl caught up in the childish pleasures of cheap glitzy treasures and dime-store trinkets, while the mother mixes joy and sadness, watching her and contemplating the world that she will inherit.

As an aside, the front cover photo was taken outside New York while the planes flew overhead, enroute to the WTC. It was a sad coincidence but somehow adds poignancy to this moving song. Strangely, Bob Dylan's Love & Theft was released on that fateful day, while Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was supposed to be released but was delayed through contractual wrangling. Wilco's cover had a picture of two tall buildings (the tallest in Chicago) and the unusual lyrics, "tall buildings shake, voices quake singing sad, sad songs." Make of that what you will.

"Henry Darger" is another fine song about a very strange man inhabiting a very strange mythological world of his own imagination, which he committed to an enormous set of books. Adding to the mystery of this tale is the fact that a young girl's disappearance at the time seemed inexplicably linked to Darger, and she makes an appearance, as a heroine in his writing. Was he somehow involved? Or simply deeply affected by the news articles surrounding the girl's disappearance? The implication to his writing is the difference between darkness and light. Mystery upon mystery in this song.

The sound quality of this recording is superb and T. Bone Burnett has a hand in the proceedings. Listeners with an excellent sound system will be rewarded.

review by
Dirk Logemann

3 May 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new