Natalie Merchant with The Louisville Orchestra

Natalie Merchant, Vocals

Bob Bernhardt, Conductor

Review by Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

Natalie Merchant, closely connected with the alternative rock movement of the eighties and nineties, has now embarked on a new project, singing her own songs fronting full orchestras. Saturday night she sang with our very own Louisville Orchestra, and the full bodied accompaniment combined with her voice worked brilliantly well. The orchestra gives her songs weight: it lifts them up in a way that an acoustic guitar or more traditional pop elements might not. Merchant’s voice has its same full tones, and her music is complex enough that it benefits from the orchestral arrangement. When she is not singing, the musical interludes sweep in and take the experience to a new level.

The set is a mix of Merchant’s work – some oldies and some relatively new songs. The newest stuff is just as muscular and hauntingly gorgeous as the old stuff.  Merchant has remained prolific from her early 10,000 Maniacs days to her most recent album, Leave Your Sleep, a compilation of children’s poems set to music.

She begins her set with the early “Gold Rush Brides” from Our Time in Eden, followed by “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” from Leave Your Sleep. The mournful nautical poetry of “Nursery Rhyme” mixed with the orchestral flutes creates the impression of an ocean behind her and captures the seafairing atmosphere of the song.

Another song from Leave Your Sleep isThe Land of Nod” based on the Robert Louis Stevenson poem. Merchant’s voice adds a tone of sadness to the dream-like poem of childhood longing and imagination. She is able to create a world with her voice not only with the children’s poetry but in songs like “Butterfly” and the popular “My Beloved Wife.”  She can convey both power and fragility, pain and hope, with songs like “Life is Sweet” and the “Worst Thing.”

At last, she sends the orchestra away and performs a few hits accompanied by acoustic guitar including “Carnival” and “Wonder,” at which point people began to get up and dance.

She drifted eventually into teasing the audience with seventies pop ballads like “Time In a Bottle” and “Dust in the Wind,” proving that she can transform any song into something of depth and meaning. The evening felt like the fulfillment of an artist’s unique vision.


Natalie Merchant with The Louisville Orchestra

November 2, 2013
Louisville Orchestra
Whitney Hall
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202