Despite a history of self-sabotage, Natalie Merchant stays on track
You got to hand it to alterna-folkie Natalie Merchant for finding a way to keep her career on track despite her many attempts at self-sabotage.
Most artists would kill to have a fan base so devoted they continue to pack shows despite the fact that she hasn't released a proper radio single in nearly a decade. For the last 17 years, however, Merchant seems to have gone to great lengths to run from her devotees... but they keep finding her.
After becoming the darling of alternative rock radio from the mid-80's to the early 90's as the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs, Merchant announced that she was leaving the band to go solo while at the height of its popularity. It was an uber-risky move, but Merchant came out the winner when her solo debut, Tigerlily, became a multi-platinum hit in 1995 on the strength of melt-in-your-mouth singles like "Carnival" and "Wonder."
Follow-up album Ophelia was nearly as celebrated, and then it's as if Merchant lost the taste for mainstream success. Her albums over the last decade have been a mix of world music and esoteric folk that should be highly praised for their craftsmanship and Merchant's dedication to the material despite the fact that it doesn't play in Peoria or anywhere else.
I'd like to tell you that Merchant's new album, Leave Your Sleep, is a return to past glories or another on-the-fringe masterpiece, but I can't. This one might even be a stretch for the devoted. The two disc set features music set to historic British and American poetry with the theme of childhood winding through the dense 26-song work. Yikes!
In high school we called having to absorb 26 old poems homework, not entertainment. Then again, Merchant has beaten the odds in the past.
Natalie Merchant, 8 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Wireless Theater