A Note on Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep

Natalie Merchant‘s Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch Records) is a graceful and delightful record of poems set to music. Each song is varied and uncompromisingly rendered. From this album, I am grateful to have found, in my opinion, three perfect songs. Perfect in the sense of having a fullness, a divine touch, a sacredness.

The first song is “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience.” Here is a song with music that matches perfectly the sentiment of the original poem. A harrowing account of lost innocence in the face of death and experience. As always in Merchant’s songs, the arrangement is a vital part and partner of the work. It is here done with finesse and urgency, not to mention with grace and alluring mystery. All descriptions cannot match the actual listening to this piece. It must be heard to be adequately understood and felt.

The next song I find essential to any music collection is “The Man in the Wilderness.” Each line of the poem is a work of art. Sometimes conscious of its own mystique and fabulous energy, the song again has lots of grace and urgency, and loads of edginess and ironic contrast to the general seriousness of the tone. The song leads the listener to be the meaningful receiver to the musical equation.

The third song I consider perfect is “Spring and Fall: to a young child” from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. This is a poignant song filled with lushness and emotional risk. It risks sentimentality but is not at all sentimental. It is instead moving beyond measure. It becomes a wise and loving attempt at explaining life and experience to any person, in addition to the young child it was originally written for. Meaning is the essence and drive of the song. It is remarkably deep and heartfelt, with a sort of poignancy which cannot be faked, but only received with an open mind.

The songs on the album are all brilliantly composed, arranged, orchestrated, and performed. There are poems by Christina Rossetti, Ogden Nash, Robert Graves, e.e. cummings, and Robert Louis Stevenson, among others.


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