Along with Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant is the female figure in music that I am the fondest of. Born in 1963, she began her career as a founding member of the American band 10,000 Maniacs in the 80s. I have covered them extensively already, and the only thing I have to say is that they were an incredibly talented group to which Natalie made a fascinating contribution, and when she parted ways with them in the early 90s many a heart went down. But as it turned out, both The Maniacs and Natalie would retain their edge and keep on doing what they did best: writing and performing music that goes from heart to heart.
Natalie’s first solo album was released in 1995, and it went by the name of “Tigerlily”. It included both a Top 20 single (“Wonder”), and a Top 10 hit (“Carnival). What ties she had with the Maniacs’ sound were mostly severed by the time of her second solo album, “Ophelia”. Her music was to become progressively insular, yet (as I said above) she never lost her edge in any sense. Divorcing herself from the role she occupied within the Maniacs (where she was part of a band that composed collectively) was obviously going to take some time and also some laboring (a fact she studied on the song “The Word” from Tigerlily). I think she always knew the kind of music she wanted to make and could visualize it in her head, but once she had the freedom to do it she could not do it completely unhindered. So she took down the barriers one by one and ended up crafting records like “Motherland” (2001), in which her artistic vision is fully realized.
On a side note, Natalie is actively involved in several charities and she is always concerned about the role women play in life, advising the younger generations without preaching on songs like “Tell Yourself” from “Motherland”.
And on another side note, she a true ideal of beauty – and even more so in the contemporary music scene. In a world of “female artists” like The Pussycat Dolls it would be nice for younger girls to realize were true beauty lies. And Natalie could author a pair of books on the subject.
My favorite video of Natalie that can be found on the web is this one. She performs “Wonder” with most of the band that had played on “Tigerlily”: