12 Songs, 57 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

On Motherland Natalie Merchant tempers the chilly Northern tone of her work with an infusion of Deep Southern heat. Aided by co-producer T-Bone Burnett, she uses these tracks to explore a newly-found affinity for Delta blues and backwoods gospel. Songs like “Saint Judas” (a Flannery O’Connor-like scenario bolstered by Mavis Staples’ guest vocal) and “Put the Law on You” (a sultry number recalling Nina Simone) let Merchant adopt the slippery inflections and tormented moods of a damaged Dixie belle. Musical references to Memphis and New Orleans flit about these tunes, even as the lyric themes range into wider terrain. She pays tribute to an outsider artist in “Henry Darger,” condemns the media machine in “Golden Boy,” and laments the loss of open spaces in the title track. Unexpected settings — such as the Jamaican/Middle Eastern hybrid “This House is on Fire” — bring out fresh resonance in her dusky, brooding vocals. Motherland finds Merchant loosening up, challenging herself, and making some of the best music of her career.

EDITORS’ NOTES

On Motherland Natalie Merchant tempers the chilly Northern tone of her work with an infusion of Deep Southern heat. Aided by co-producer T-Bone Burnett, she uses these tracks to explore a newly-found affinity for Delta blues and backwoods gospel. Songs like “Saint Judas” (a Flannery O’Connor-like scenario bolstered by Mavis Staples’ guest vocal) and “Put the Law on You” (a sultry number recalling Nina Simone) let Merchant adopt the slippery inflections and tormented moods of a damaged Dixie belle. Musical references to Memphis and New Orleans flit about these tunes, even as the lyric themes range into wider terrain. She pays tribute to an outsider artist in “Henry Darger,” condemns the media machine in “Golden Boy,” and laments the loss of open spaces in the title track. Unexpected settings — such as the Jamaican/Middle Eastern hybrid “This House is on Fire” — bring out fresh resonance in her dusky, brooding vocals. Motherland finds Merchant loosening up, challenging herself, and making some of the best music of her career.

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