A self-surpassing milestone
Natalie Merchant is just talented enough to escape her own trap. On her new album, she’s taken poems by everyone from Jack Prelutsky to Robert Louis Stevenson and crammed them into 26 tracks of museum-piece jazz, Starbucks bluegrass and PBS reggae. It’s an effortlessly elegant and pleasant ride that even the obvious hip-yuppie trappings of it all can’t obscure.
Merchant takes her time between projects, and you forget how deeply wired every inflection of this woman’s voice is in your head; her best work has always been tinged with whimsy, and here she lets the colors run amok with a childlike confidence. Fans of the more sinewy Tigerlily will be floored to discover that something so theoretically precious may well be her best work since 10,000 Maniacs.