It's been four years since I last saw Natalie Merchant
live. It was at an outdoor festival in the Rocky Mountains and
she was touring with an amazing band, performing both new and
old "folk" music. I think it goes without saying that
the show was amazing, and that I came away singing those songs
- some that I hadn't heard since my childhood - for months and
months. Imagine my joy when I heard that Natalie had recorded
some of those songs and put together a record of them. I was jubilant.
These are songs that span the years of American folk, from Appalachian
roots music to songs written by modern bands. Natalie Merchant
has compiled a collection of diverse tunes that are cultural treasures,
some of which many people may never have heard. The best thing
about this record? All of these amazing and insightful songs are
sung by the honey-sweet voice of Merchant, accompanied by traditional
folk instruments, such as dobro and fiddle. The mood of the entire
record is somewhat somber, which is expected given the subject
matter. Those that purchase the record expecting 10,000 Maniacs
may be a bit disappointed. The music is rustic and dark, but not
so overpoweringly that it will put off more pop-oriented listeners.
Because of its accessibility, The House Carpenter's Daughter
is a great "Americana" primer.
The record kicks off with "Sally Ann", a song originally
written and performed by Ithaca, NY's The Horseflies, of
whom two players take part in the recording of this record. Merchant's
voice is haunting and eerie on "Which Side Are You On?".
This song takes me back to days of my youth, when my grandmother
would sing me old mountain gospel songs. It is an amazing version,
one that will forever be with me. "Weeping Pilgrim"
is another of those songs from my early childhood that I had all
but forgotten, but jumps back to life on this recording. The early
American jump rope chant "Soldier, Soldier" is represented
very nicely here, with some amazing guitar work and hopping rhythms.
"Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow" is splendidly awash
in ethnic banjo picking and fiddle yawing, making one of the more
pleasurable and light songs on the record. Closing the album in
a very fitting manner is "Poor Wayfaring Stranger",
which is a song that everyone should be aware of. It is one of
the basics of modern folk music, and this version is amazing in
its simple complexity. Natalie's voice soars on this track more
than any other, with a resonance of angelic grace and beauty.
All together, Natalie Merchant has assembled an amazing collection
of songs, an amazing cast of talent to play those songs, and
a very nicely presented package of liner notes. The only thing
lacking for me was a version of "Hard Times Come Again
No More". But I can live without that.
1. Sally Ann
2. Which side Are You On?
3. Crazy Man Michael
4. Diver Boy
5. Weeping Pilgrim
6. Soldier, Soldier
7. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow
8. House Carpenter
10. Down On Penny's Farm
11. Poor Wayfaring Stranger
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