Natalie Merchant and her recently released Nonesuch debut album, Leave Your Sleep, were the subject of a feature profile on last night's edition of the PBS program NewsHour titled "Classic Poems Turn Lyrical on Natalie Merchant's New Album."
Merchant spoke with NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown as part of the show's ongoing Poetry Series to discuss the new project, in which she set to music the work of poets both well-known and lesser-known, words both serious and humorous but always evocative.
"A poet," Merchant tells Brown, "transports you to a place where you can experience what they saw or what they felt, what they smelled, what they touched."
You can watch the full story online now at pbs.org.
Leave Your Sleep recently made The Daily Beast's Yes List, its top culture picks for the week. Referencing the project's initial inspiration, Merchant's daughter, the site says that "the humanity clearly comes through—Merchant’s voice is both soothing and electric on the album. Motherhood has not dimmed her talents but amplified them, creating songs that sound like lullabies but are decidedly adult." Read more at thedailybeast.com.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says Merchant brought these poems "to musical life by surrounding them with bucolic orchestration. Woodwinds dance with strings, horns swell, and subtle acoustic guitars remind us that all of Leave Your Sleep is growing in fecund, folky, black earth." Reviewer Sam Seiler says her "once-in-a-generation voice works like fertilizer on all these sprouting dreams" and suggests letting "our respective imaginations run away with themselves and enjoy the ride." Read more at jsonline.com.
Pop Matters calls it "an elaborate and painstaking" project for which the years of effort Merchant put into making it clearly paid off with the finished two-disc album. "The CD packaging is sumptuous," writes reviewer Jennifer Cooke, "including a beautifully hardbound booklet with lyrics, fascinating mini-biographies, and portraits of all the poets, as well as detailed credits for the 100+ musicians who contributed over a recording period of more than a year."
As diverse as the poets are, so too are the styles of music Merchant used to set them to song, including folk, jazz, reggae, and R&B. Yet, Cooke insists, "for all of the eclecticism and the vast numbers of musicians involved, the overall effect is not hodgepodge or disjointed at all—Leave Your Sleep is a cohesive work, and it sounds very much like a Natalie Merchant album."
Whatever preconceptions one might have of such an elaborate project with poetry at its root, "this labor of love (so exhaustively researched, so musically collaborative, so many years in the making) is not elitist or pedantic," Cooke concludes. "It’s just beautiful and special."
Read the complete review at popmatters.com.
Merchant's US tour brought her to the Aratani/Japan America Theatre in Los Angeles late last week for a sold-out show benefiting the free cultural programs at the Los Angeles Central Library. Performing for a "rapt audience," reports LAist, "Merchant’s voice was in top form that night, singing a number of songs from Leave Your Sleep."
There are just three more events on the current tour in the States this week—sold out sets for the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge and the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC plus the PEN World Voices Festival's PEN Cabaret in New York—before Merchant brings the music of Leave Your Sleep to Europe. For more tour information, visit nonesuch.com/on-tour. To pick up a copy of the album, visit the Nonesuch Store.