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NATALIE MERCHANT

01-06-2010

Natalie Merchant

Stirrer editor Adrian Goldberg revels in a Symphony Hall show by one of his favourite artists – currently performing a unique selection of childrens’ songs and verses.

Natalie Merchant has an amazing voice – a jagged, husky thing capable of transforming even the simplest rhyme into sweet, painful melancholy.

Nothing proves the point more than her latest project, provoked by the birth of her daughter.

Not content with reading “Noddy” or “Mr Men” to her offspring, Merchant explored the childrens’ poetry and nonsense verse of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and duly set it to music. Her kid's a lucky girl.

In Merchant's capable hands, and sung with a plaintive twang, even bonkers stuff like Edward Lear can come across like a heartbreaker.

The double album that accompanies this tour, with its richly researched notes, highlights what a labour of love this was – and it’s remarkable how the dreams, hopes and fears of childhood still resonate in later life.

For all that, the highlight of this good humoured and relaxed show is the final half hour – a re-run of classics like “These Are Days” and “My Beloved Wife”.

Flanked by two guitarists, and an occasional cello, but otherwise unaccompanied, Merchant was remarkably good spirits considering that she’d spent the previous two days stricken with flu.

Natalie Merchant

We can only hope that her comment that “it might be ten years before I’m here again” was merely a joshing aside and not a prophecy.

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