Natalie Merchant

Elektra Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


The departure of a group’s front person, generally the “face” of the band, and certainly the voice, is always an interesting transition. The emergence of Natalie Merchant as a solo artist following her departure form 10,000 Maniacs was a smooth and artistic one. No one should be surprised; she took over the vocalist spot for Maniacs at seventeen, making her a journeyman in the flavor-of-the-month world of popular music. Her debut, Tigerlily, features introspective and poetic lyrics backed by solid musicianship. Carrying just a hint of the folksy vibe of her former band, the groove is more jazzy and contemplative. It's a smooth, somewhat dark listen.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Merchants’ voice has some amazing qualities, with great expressive range and a natural harmonic quality that resonates strongly with her emotional and introspective lyrics. I found it easy to get lost in her words. With a less capable singer, this laidback, sultry album could have been relegated to coffeehouse background music, but her voice has an urgency and insistence that really captures the listener – this listener, anyway.

Much of the album is drenched with melancholy. Sad songs are a natural platform for Natalie's soulful voice. Her tribute to the late River Phoenix, “River,” resonates equally with sadness, and with resentment of the media and the treatment we give to those famous people who succumb to excess. “My Beloved Wife” is an unusual love song that rings with a depth of loss.  She doesn't ask “Why me?”; there's no “how will I go on?” in this track, just the acceptance of loss.  A simple plaintive statement resonates with resignation when she sings, “I can't believe I've lost, the very best of me.”

The slow groove picks up a bit on the well-known track, “Carnival,” and the self-effacing “Jealousy,” both of which feature an almost funky soul vibe.  The closing track “Seven Years” is one of the more compelling songs on the disc, an understated but biting rebuff to a former lover: “So don't you try to right now / All the wrong you did / I may forget you / But not forgive.”

Despite my initial reservations at approaching this album, I was quickly drawn in to it, mainly by Natalie's haunting, expressive voice. Tigerlily is a fine solo debut and now a welcome part of my collection.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



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