At the age of 17, Natalie Merchant burst onto the pop scene as the lead vocalist for 10,000 Maniacs. Since then she has become renowned for her originality and unique vocals. Reinventing herself as a solo artist, Ms. Merchant left 10,000 Maniacs to launch a solo career in 1992. Her first solo release in 1993, "Tigerlily", was critically acclaimed. "Ophelia" followed in 1998 and "Motherland" in 2001. Each of these releases spawned several commercially successful hits. Cuts from the "Motherland" CD began to show distinct influences of Blues, Gospel, Folk and Bluegrass in their instrumentation and lyrical styles. In 2003, 10 years after launching her solo career, in a controversial move, Natalie reached out beyond the familiar pop and produced the "House Carpenter's Daughter", an acoustical folk CD, again with strong influences of root music.
Ms. Merchant's newest release "Retrospective 1995 – 2005" takes a look back over the course of her solo career. As a first introduction to the talented Ms. Merchant, "Retrospective" is a great addition to your collection. This is a straight retrospective with a good selection of Ms. Merchants work. The liner notes offer Ms. Merchant's insight into how the significance of each of the selections in her life's journey. The term retrospective means to take a look back and reflect and this is exactly what Ms. Merchant did with this compilation.
Critics, however, have found fault with the lack of new material. Since the last original work was released in 2003, it could be interpreted that the well of her creativity has begun to dry up and thus a retrospective keeps the fan's interest. More likely, Ms. Merchant is reflecting on the past in order to find clear direction for the future.
The retrospective offers four songs from "Tigerlily", four cuts from "Ophelia", three cuts from "Motherland" and two from "House Carpenter's Daughter". Highlights include "Wonder", "Carnival", "Jealousy" and "San Andreas Fault" representing Ms. Merchant's pop success. "Kind and Generous" is a highly romantic piece which is often selected for wedding songs. Gospel singer, Mavis Staples joins Ms. Merchant on "Build a Levee" bringing a strong blues influence into the mix. "Owensboro" and "Sally Ann" represent her journey into traditional folk music.
If you study Ms. Merchant's work over the span of her career, it's hard to deny the talent, hard to ignore the political messages. Ms. Merchant has quite eloquently produced a collection of music that makes a statement about the times in which she lives and the issues that have deep meaning for her. Isn't that what folk music is truly about?