This fascinating, self-funded double CD (available in a single disc "Selections" version) has preoccupied the former 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman for the past five years -- but if literate and literary music is your thing you'll conclude it was worth her efforts.
After the birth of her daughter, Merchant -- as musical parents are wont to do -- decided to record an album of lullabies. But the project progressively changed to what we now have: a collection of songs about the fears and fancies of childhood as conveyed by a couple of dozen poets from the somewhat obscure (Jack Prelutsky, Rachel Field) to the household names (Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, Christina Rossetti).
By gently adapting the poems into songs then bringing in a stellar cast for each piece -- Wynton Marsalis' group, Medeski Martin and Wood, the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York, a klezmer group -- she has created a broadly conceptual album where Cajun music rubs shoulders with Irish folk, jazz with bluegrass, deep reggae with chamber music.
It is beautifully presented as a book with photographs of the poets and the poems reproduced, and explores the scary side of childhood (loneliness, the dark, the boogie-man etc) as well as the joys of the child's imagination.
An ambitious and remarkably successful project, as much as a double album of music to immerse yourself in as a good book of fairytales.
There is an interview with Natalie Merchant about this project here.
By Graham Reid, posted