Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep

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Girls and boys, come out to play,

The moon doth shine as bright as day;

Leave your supper, leave your sleep,

And come with your playfellows into the street

- Mother Goose

So begins the booklet accompanying this 2 CD deluxe set from Natalie Merchant.  The songs within, as she explains at some length, are adapted poems that she shared with her daughter to the age of seven.  All poems, therefore,  are suitable for children, and, as it should, some silliness is included.  Still, most offer a teaching frame of reference between parent and child, including opportunities to discuss the nature of imagination, logic, right and wrong, perspective, aging, cleverness, etc…  It reflects a rather intentional, challenging and Natalie Merchant - Leave Your Sleepenriching approach to raising a child in and of itself.  Maybe someone will interview her about that aspect.

Leave Your Sleep was a major undertaking.  The booklet includes photographs and brief biographies of many of the poets, providing glimpses of the people, their work, or their impact on Merchant.  They give much substance to the reading and hearing of the poems, which were by late 19th or early 20th century poets.  While most poets are likely outside the notice of anyone but literature students, she does include poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and ee cummings.  How often do listen to a CD and feel better read?  And, speaking of literature, the companion booklet itself is remarkable in its design, and it alone should be enough to persuade anyone to avoid the single “Selections from…” disk that is also available.

 

Merchant gained notice in the 1980’s as the lead singer of 10,000 maniacs, which she followed with several well received solo releases.  Though an excellent songwriter herself, this task offered her the opportunity of taking words not meant for music and applying whatever styles she found appropriate for the mood and subject of the poem.  On the face of it, that’s quite an opportunity, and Merchant didn’t limit her options.

The CD sleeve indicated over 100 musicians took part, and, in fact, they’re all listed at the end of the booklet.  Music styles include Appalachian jigs, rock, New Orleans jazz, British folk, Celtic?, orchestral lushness, and whatever else seems to fit.  The only negative is the occasional use of pipes which still irritate 13 years since Titanic over exposed them.  That’s my problem, I know.

Another kudo belongs with keeping with not just the spirit of the poems, but their words.  Merchant rarely edits a word and only occasionally repeats a line for the purpose of a musical need, and it must have been an inordinate challenge to refrain from changing the poems more observably in song.

Only one song, “Griselda,” stands out as an iPod entry, due to an identifiable rock beat and (even) a guitar solo, though personal preferences may introduce others into a shuffle mix (“The Man in the Wilderness” and “The Peppery Man,”).   But, instead of viewing this CD for “pop” value, I’m quite certain that I’ll enjoy Leave Your Sleep most when I’m able to listen to the entirety, likely reading along.

After a seven year absence from the recording world, Merchant aimed high and risked much to deposit a concept album of poetry suitable for children in an intelligent re-creation for a wider audience.  Leave Your Sleep is a triumph all around, and one to be appreciated – when in the mood.  How often I’ll be in that mood remains to be seen, but then, how often do we re-read a favorite book?

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

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