Natalie Merchant

By - Dec 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By John Hughes

NATALIE MERCHANTHouse Carpenter’s DaughterMyth

Natalie Merchant has done a righteous thing. She has, of her own free-will, allowed her recording contract with Elektra to lapse, and her fame to diminish, for the sake of artistic control and integrity. What she’s done with her newfound freedom is establish her own record label, Myth America, and create a new CD, House Carpenter’s Daughter, which is now in stores on a limited availability basis. The new CD can be taken as an indication of where she will be headed musically for the foreseeable future. She’s delving into core American musical history, dusting folk greats off for present enjoyment.

The entire package of this CD is encountered as a work of art, not just music. The liner notes are articulate and personable, and the photo and art montages, credited to Miss Merchant, are tasteful. Her song selection, a blend of archaic and contemporary, is impeccable, and the musicianship surrounding her singing (a basic rock arrangement judiciously augmented by banjo, fiddle and accordion) is flawless on each song. There is not a note out of place. The album has a rustic, relaxed feel. As always, Merchant’s lovely voice — warm, bold and sensual — is the centerpiece of the disc. This album is like comfort food for the ears.

There are four standout tracks, “Sally Ann,” “Weeping Pilgrim,” “Owensboro” and “Wayfaring Stranger,” each playing at the edges of serious beauty, tugging the heartstrings with a sense of Americana mystery. “Soldier Soldier” and “Down on Penny’s Farm” relax the mood considerably and also bring a note of humor. But, as she’s been throughout most of her career, Merchant is understated, basically restrained.

This is not a party album, or one for driving with in a fast car. It’s a perfect, thoughtful companion for being cozy indoors on a rainy or freezing day.

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