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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!: Day 332 - Natalie Merchant

Retrospective 1990-2005 -Natalie Merchant
Released 27th September 2005

2CD Limited Edition Version

The album was released as a 2CD Limited Edition with the second disc featuring Outtakes from her own recordings and also a number of collaborations with other artists including Billy Bragg, The Chieftans, R.E.M. and Susan McKeown and the Chanting House.

The album was set like a Hard Bound Book with a Hessian Cover and  contained a 24 page booklet with photos and detailed liner notes on each song written by Natalie Merchant.

It was also issued as a single CD featuring only songs on the first disc.

Missing from the above playlist (mainly due to the fact that I couldn't find any versions on You Tube are Track 10 from the first disc and track 15 from the second disc.

Singles featured on Retrospective 1990-2005
The Links in this section are not necessarily the actual versions that were released as single. I have included some links to TV Performances and Live shows.
Released 1995
US Chart #10
UK Chart #147

Wonder / Baby I Love You
Released 1996
US Chart #20
UK Chart #96

Jealousy / Sympathy for the Devil (Live)
Released 1996
US Chart #23

Kind and Generous (Album Version) / Frozen Charlotte (Album Version) / Wonder (Album Version)
US Chart #18

Break Your Heart (Edit) / Break Your Heart (Album Version) / Carnival (Album Version)
UK Chart #124

Life Is Sweet (Remix/Edit) / Life Is Sweet (Album Version)
Did Not Chart

Within the framework of the 15 years this compilation represents Natalie Merchant had only released four studio albums, one live album and seven singles. It's not a lot but sometimes quality overrides the need for quantity.

In the her liner notes for the song Carnival she says, "In 1993 I left the saftey of a band that I had helped form when I was 17 years old. Although I was excited about writing and recording my own songs, the task of finding musicians daunted me." 

The first song she had written once she had departed 10,000 Maniacs (I May Know The Word) is not included as part of the Retrospective but it did appear as B-Side to her debut solo single Carnival (which reached the Top Ten), and also has a place on her debut album Tigerlily. A further two singles were drawn from the album, Wonder and Jealousy. It's amazing to me to see that Wonder only made it to #20 in the US. It's considered one of her signature songs these days and has had a profound effect on the lives of many down through the years.

Seeking creative control, Merchant chose to fund Tigerlily herself, refusing the advance from the record company. She also wanted to work with a core group of young musicians who she felt would be enthusiastic about the music. The group would consist of guitarist Jennifer Turner, bassist Barrie Maguire, and former-Wallflower and eventual boyfriend to Merchant, Peter Yanowitz, who played drums on the album and who continued to do so with Merchant until their abrupt split in 2000.

The follow-up Ophelia appeared three years later (1998) and gave us three of her most beautiful songs as singles Kind & Generous, Break Your Heart and Life Is Sweet. She says of Kind & Generous that it "is probably the most popular song that I have ever written...It makes people feel good, like a pop song should." The message of Life Is Sweet couldn't have been any clearer, in her liner notes she says, "Childhood innocence seems more likely to be exploited than protected, and it's a situation that brings me great sadness. I fear for the future if children don't know how to be joyful. I just wanted to write something to remind them that they don't need to be contaminated by all the pessimism and cynisism that's choking the air around them."

Motherland was released in November 2001 and Natalie Merchant caused a bit of a stir on The Late Show with David Letterman when she appeared 12th November playing the single Just Can't Last and the next night was invited back to play a rousing version of Build a Levee. That doesn't happen too often! Build a Levee is one of my favourites of hers and she has Mavis Staples sing on it for the album (Staples also sang on Saint Judas).

Motherland was her final album for Elektra and her next album, The House Carpenter's Daughter would be released on her own label Myth America Records. The Retrospective draws two songs from the album and that completes the first disc. The album would be very different to what she had released before as it was mainly covers Traditional American Folk songs and also some Contemporary Folk songs. Whilst the two songs included are here are good I prefered Which Side Are You On. Poor Wayfaring Stranger and the old A.P. Carter song Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow are other favourites on a very underrated album.

The second disc has some great collaborations. I love the ones she has done with Billy Bragg down through the years. My favourite (not included on this album is Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key that they did for the Mermaid Avenue Project). Also included is the beautiful The Lowlands of Holland that was with The Chieftans that was recorded for their Tears of Stone album.

All in all it's a brilliant insight into the musical heart of Natalie Merchant and the causes and concerns that have moved her to record many of these songs. Well worth spending some time listening afresh to today.

Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!
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