Natalie Merchant

Elektra Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on April 2, 1996]

Leaving a successful band can be a risky proposition for a singer-songwriter. For every one who makes it fine on their own (see Grammy-winner Sting) there's one who ends up looking the overconfident fool (see one-trick pony David Lee Roth). The good news for listeners is that there does appear to be some correlation here between relative talent and solo success. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And the good news for Natalie Merchant is that talent is one thing the former 10,000 Maniacs lead singer has got in spades. Merchant's voice is an amazing gift, sinuous and sultry and stunningly pure. On Tigerlily, her solo debut, she puts her gift through its paces and produces a soundscape of shimmering beauty.

If there's a flaw to Merchant's artistry on this album, it's in the uneven quality of her entirely self-composed songs. The edgy, damning "San Andreas Fault" is one of her best—a brutally succinct indictment of California's dark side ("O promised land / o wicked ground / build a dream / tear it down"), arranged and sung with riveting sureness. It, along with the gently rocking, lyrically sharp hits "Carnival," "Wonder" and "Jealousy," give the album the momentum it needs to carry through the slower tunes between, where she seems intent on exploring seven shades of melancholy.

At times, Merchant makes this latter path haunting and memorable (the closing verse of "I May Know the Word" stands out), but somewhere in songs like "Beloved Wife" and "Seven Years," she crosses the line between engaging you with her earnestness and knocking you over the head with it. "River," her elegy to River Phoenix, showcases her at both her strongest and her weakest—a heartfelt lyric sung with such stark beauty and conviction the listener has no choice but to forgive it its overwrought moments.

Say what you will about her occasional missteps; Merchant's is truly a voice for the ages, and Tigerlily succeeds in showcasing both her tremendous talents as a singer-songwriter, and her very human flaws.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+



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