The Most Artful of Pop: Natalie Merchant

ACCORD, NY - January 23, 2016 - Natalie Merchant 
credit: Jacob BlickenstaffNo one would ever confuse the music that Natalie Merchant writes and produces with prog.  Not in the least!  Well. . . ok, maybe a bit in the least.  That is, while Merchant is firmly in the folk and pop tradition of American songwriting, she’s also willing to take grand chances.  It would certainly not be out of the realm of reality to call what she does artful pop.  And, artful it most certainly is.

Most recently, Merchant released a rather glorious 10-cd collection of all (almost) of her solo material.  This package from Nonesuch, The Natalie Merchant Collection, is a thing of joy.  The sound of the music is so crisp and the packaging is just perfect.  I will admit, I’m a sucker for good presentation and packaging.  The box is sturdy and the 100-page booklet that comes with the set is just stunning.  This, my friends, is the way to release music.

I must also state—somewhat of an embarrassing admission that might be perceived as sexist by some—that I find Merchant one truly beautiful woman.  When she was younger, she was what one would’ve called in the 1980s, “cute.”  As she has aged, however, she has allowed her hair to grey, and she doesn’t hide the few wrinkles of age.  Thus, I find her absolutely stunning as a middle-aged woman.  Thank you, Merchant for NOT succumbing to the disgusting and plastic culture of “forever young.”

In addition to the solo albums Merchant has released, she also includes in this package a new studio album, Butterfly, and a final disk of “rarities.”  At amazon, you can purchase this package—116 tracks!—for a mere $40.  Quite a bargain, especially given the beauty of the package itself.

The new album, Butterfly, is quite good, but I need a bit more time to absorb it.  I hope to do an in-depth review of it soon.

Of everything Merchant has done, however, I find her 2010 double album—Leave Your Sleep—not only her best, but one of the best albums of the rock era.  Certainly, it should rank in the top 100 of all time.  On it, Merchant playfully yet intelligently reconsiders children’s stories and poetries.  The songs range from the most intense pop to the most whimsical.  It’s pretty much perfect.