In the absence of any other suggestion, I planned today to write about Natalie Merchant. She was the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs in the 1990s and has been a solo artist since having some success but by no means as well known as the boustier-wearing, pants-eschewing current pop princesses of today. So imagine my surprise when I saw that Spinner was also taking on Ms. Merchant today. Kismet, coincidence or providence? Maybe we just like good singers.
Natalie Merchant has a unique sound. It’s both husky and ethereal, sweet and tough. You’ll never confuse her with another singer. I’ve been a fan since her old band’s CD In My Tribe. I love her propensity for taking words as suggestions, to be sung as she chooses, certainly not as Merriam-Webster would have wanted. She picks and chooses among consonants to sing, the sound of the word as sung meaning so much more than the sound of the actual word. It’s as if her songs have three parts: the music, the lyrics, and how she decides to phrase and interpret those lyrics.
On stage she was both quirky and sexy. She can command a stage with just her voice, no grand theatrics and no embellishments. That first successful album had so many great songs, Don’t Talk, Like the Weather, What’s the Matter Here? The next album, Blind Man’s Zoo, had Trouble Me and Eat For Two.
That the same person could write this:
shows amazing range and depth. The first, a buoyant take on depression, the second, a desperate plaint of an unwed, teen mom.
Yet my favorite song of hers is from her post-Maniacs period. It always gets to me, in a good way. It’s so joyous and hopeful, empowering and anthemic.
With love, with patience, and with faith…she’ll make her way.
This live version starts slowly, with just her voice, a piano, and the chorus. Then the song starts, and it's impossible not to smile by the end. It's called Wonder: