Hello. Another Sunday morning brings another show, complete this time after last week’s lite version.
You know the score now: get a big coffee, find a comfy seat, sit down, relax.
Let’s go straight into the music with less preamble than normal.
Natalie’s latest project is a double CD in which she puts poetry to music and I’ve chosen a nursery rhyme by Charles Causley. I think you’ll like it.
Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience
I wondered about starting with such a quiet and uncomplicated song – would it pull anyone in? – but it’s beauty won over my doubts.
Natalie, who will be 47 in a week or so, was born in Jamestown, New York with very international blood as, I imagine, are many Americans. Her grandfather was Sicilian – the family name, ‘Mercante’, being anglicised to ‘Merchant’ – and her mother’s side brought in some Irish, German and French.
In her teens she joined the group who were later to take the name, 10000 Maniacs, a choice which was not the most appropriate for a band which played folk music.
Next up is that group. Normally I try to bring videos of live performances but for some of this week’s choice I couldn’t find a live performance video of sufficient quality.
The Painted Desert 10000 Maniacs
This is the first Maniacs’ song I heard and still I have the same reaction - “Aaaaah! Yesssss!” This song has a wrap-around, complete sound in which the words have no meaning other than their sound. Now I know the words do have meaning but not when I let the sound wash all over, in and through me.
Some may say that this song is like a thousand other songs and, therefore, of no great import. To this I can only say, “Bring the other thousand songs on.”
Wikipedia says this of Natalie’s upbringing,
Her mother “wouldn't allow TV after Natalie was 12.”
"I was taken to the symphony a lot because my mother loved classical music. But I was dragged to see Styx when I was 12. We had to drive 100 miles to Buffalo, New York. Someone threw up next to me and people were smoking pot. It was terrifying. I remember Styx had a white piano which rose out of the stage. It was awe-inspiring and inspirational."
“I never really had friends who sat around and listened to the stereo and said 'hey, listen to this one', so I'd never even heard of who Bob Dylan was until I was 18."
From her first solo album - 4 million copies sold - I have selected this song – Seven Years - which wasn’t one of the hits. Why choose it? Simple. I love it!
Natalie’s rich voice is complimented by a sober cello and an angry bass which highlight the lyric’s emotions. Brilliant!
Her step-father “and her mother had strong influence on the artisticly (sic) developing young Natalie. They lived in the solitude of woodlands and grape vineyards of Westfield, New York where Natalie and her siblings were often left to their own devices and imaginations.
Westfield was a scary place for the preteen, short-haired Natalie who was often mistaken for a boy. She took music lessons after school and her teacher, Marcella, was struck by the beautiful, rich, natural voice of the gifted young girl. "She justed (sic) opened her mouth and this beautiful sound came out of it." Westfield was also home to a traveling (sic) troupe of European style puppeteers. This was a place where the people accepted and encouraged Natalie when she resisted the strictures of teen conformity”
This next song is taken from her solo album and may be familiar to some: I featured this tune in “Music in the Morning”.
Frozen Charlotte with Karen Peris
I still consider this a performance of sheer beauty which pulls and touches in a very taut way. [God, I’m becoming really pretentious, a pseud with my descriptions]
“Natalie …. she knew that she needed her freedom [from 10000 Maniacs] to discover her own voices. They would make three more hugely successful albums together. Natalie gave her two year notice in 1991. She wanted the band members to have financial security but she knew she had to leave. The huge financial success of Unplugged, which went triple platinum, allayed her fears for their financial futures. Natalie had grown from a seventeen-year-old girl to a thirty-year-old woman and she had long ago promised herself that she would not still be in the band when she was over thirty. Invigorated by the challenge of change, Natalie started writing the day that she left 10,000 Maniacs.”
The Maniacs return with a cover of a Springsteen - Patti Smith song.
Because the Night with the 10000 Maniacs
From quiet and thoughtful to rock her voice comes out on top.
We’re at the halfway point : 5 down, 5 videos to go. Take a break, stretch your legs, get a coffee top-up even come back later, I’ll wait for you.
Here are the lyrics to a wonderful song:
Take a look at my body
Your face saving promises
I've been treated so wrong
Contempt loves the silence
They say that promises
I've been treated so wrong
I'm a slow dying flower
O, I need
Do you remember the way
Your face saving promises
O, I need
Is it dark enough?
You better shut your mouth
Since going solo in 1993 Natalie has released 5 albums:
2003: The House Carpenter's Daughter
2010: Leave Your Sleep
and 9 with the Maniacs:
Human Conflict Number Five
Secrets of the I Ching
The Wishing Chair
In My Tribe
Blind Man's Zoo
Hope Chest: The Fredonia Recordings 1982-1983
Our Time in Eden
Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure and Unknown Recordings
We return to the Maniacs for
Don’t Talk with the 10000 Maniacs
I had listened to this track several times before I wrote these words and it’s only now that I hear the similarity between Natalie’s voice (in this track only) and overall sound with Debby Harry’s voice and sound. This could almost be Blondie! I checked Wikipedia and found that Debbie Harry is 65! She’s old!
But then again I’m not far behind.
I don’t often agree with Jonathan Ross but in his breakneck introduction he describes this song as “beautiful”. He is so right.
I’ve had another realisation – I’m sure you’ve all been here a long time before me. A quiet, slow number such as this is much more exposed than an upbeat song: there is no hiding place for a note, for a word. A flaw would chime loudly but here no bell sounds.
Only two more videos and I’m sad but delighted. Last week I didn’t have the time to do justice to Doc Watson and his music but today everything seems to be floating into place as though in a dream. I hope I’m right.
Ninth up is another track from her poetry to music album, this time recorded in Glasgow for the Celtic Connections festival.
The Man in the Wilderness
I try to leave one of my absolute favourites to this slot: a great one for you to leave on. “Gulf of Araby” – the Katell Keineg song - came late on the scene as THE one but I’m sure I have chosen wisely.
Gulf of Araby
Natalie Merchant is far from being a household name but she has all the talent one come ever dream of. I’m so glad I found her.
Well, one show ends and the preparation for another starts. Tune in again next Sunday to see how successful I’ve been. I’ll be waiting and you’ll be made most welcome.
Thanks and have a great week.