Friday, June 11, 2010

Natalie Merchant ~ A Fresh Eyes Musical View of Old Poems

image: james duncan davidson, ted.
Natalie Merchant Sings Old Poems to Life
TED2010 Events

Natalie Merchant sings from her new album,Leave Your Sleep.Lyrics from near-forgotten 19th-century poetry pair with her unmistakable voice for a performance that brought the TED audience to its feet.


Natalie Merchant's career spans three decades -- as the leader of 10,000 Maniacs and in her own solo work -- of making warmly personal music.

Why you should listen to her:
In the 1980s, Natalie Merchant led the great folk-rock band 10,000 Maniacs. She went solo in the '90s, and to maintain creative control over her music, she self-funded her debut album, Tigerlily, which had chart-toppers like "Jealousy," "Carnival" and "Wonder." She recorded her sophomore album, Ophelia, at her home studio; the album went platinum, and she headlined at Lilith Fair and joined the American Folk Music Tour before releasing Motherland, which paired her rich voice with more strings

Merchant independently released her 2003 album, The House Carpenter's Daughter, which veers back toward classic folk; she covers traditional songs such as "House Carpenter" and "Weeping Pilgrim," an 18th-century hymnal she found in the NY Public Library archives. Merchant is dedicated to supporting a wide array of nonprofits and social justice groups. For the past five years, she has been researching, writing and recording a collection of songs adapted from the works of classic and contemporary poets. She is set to release Leave Your Sleep in March 2010.

"I’ve always considered it a great privilege to be a musician, I’ve never lost sight of that." ~Natalie Merchant~


'Leave Your Sleep' ~2010
Released by Natalie Merchant

This new collection of songs, Leave Your Sleep, is my first studio album since 2003. It is the most elaborate project I have ever completed or even imagined.

I have always loved many different styles of music but had barely scratched the surface of those genres in my own recordings. This time in the studio I really wanted to experiment so I called on some of the most accomplished musicians in Cajun, blue-grass, reggae, chamber and early music, jazz, and R&B, as well as Balkan, Chinese and Celtic folk. Some were old friends and some were artists whose work I had admired from afar, such as The Wynton Marsalis Quintet, Medeski, Martin & Wood,

The Klezmatics, members of the New York Philharmonic, LĂșnasa, The Chinese Music Ensemble of New York, The Memphis Boys, Katell Keineg, the Ditty Bops, The Fairfield Four and Hazmat Modine. The sessions were recorded in live ensemble settings to capture a fresh and spontaneous energy; they were some of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had making music.

The lyrics for Leave Your Sleep are another departure from the way I had written for the past 28 years. I decided to set poetry created by other writers to music. I chose works by both well-known and obscure poets, ranging from anonymous nursery rhymes and lullabies to poems by British Victorians, early and mid 20th Century Americans, and a few contemporary writers. Ogden Nash, E.E. Cummings, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christina Rossetti, Edward Lear, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Graves are among the most well known of the group.

The poems inspired vastly different musical settings with themes that ranged from humorous and absurd to tragic, romantic, and deeply spiritual.

The recording took a full year to complete, involving over 100 musicians. My co-producer was Andres Levin, who has worked with Marisa Monte, David Byrne, Carlinhos Brown, and Orishas. Leave Your Sleep was engineered by Nick Wollage, a British soundtrack recordist for such films as Atonement, Pride And Prejudice, Miss Potter, Gosford Park, and The Merchant of Venice. The mixing was done by the legendary Steven Rosenthal in his downtown Manhattan studio, The Magic Shop.

“I narrowed the field to poetry that related to motherhood or childhood, because that’s the world I was living in,” Ms. Merchant said. “Some people see that as a valid place of exploration and others just think it’s trivial — oh, another female artist has gone off and had a kid and wants to tell us about it. But it’s about being human to me.”

Luckily, “Leave Your Sleep” is not the kind of perky singalong, lullaby collection or instructional ditties that are generally classified as a children’s album. Its songs touch on somber topics, like war and death, as well as more whimsical ones. Through the years Ms. Merchant has generally stayed serious and thoughtful, but “Leave Your Sleep” often has a twinkle in its eye.' Jon Pareles, New York Times interview--April 16, 2010.

Five years of research and writing went into Leave Your Sleep. Over time my curiosity about the lives of the poets that I had included in my anthology grew. So I read biographical accounts and letters, searched archives, and contacted heirs, executors, or the poets themselves in an attempt to know more about my co-writers. Much of this information is included in the 80 page book that accompanies the collection of music.

Two versions of Leave Your Sleep will be available April 13th on Nonesuch Records: a 26 song version with deluxe packaging and a 16-track “selections” version with abridged liner notes. — Natalie Merchant