(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)
Natalie Merchant’s reasonably priced mega-box set is due out next month, though my pre-ordered copy is already in the UPS pipeline. I’ll have more to say about it after I receive it, no doubt, but one thing I can say is:
I’m saddened that the same love and affection shown to Natalie’s solo career hasn’t been applied to her days with her old group, 10,000 Maniacs.
Don’t get me wrong: the 2004 2-CD collection Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure and Unknown Recordings of 10,000 Maniacs is an excellent compilation. But that early era of the Maniacs (who are still a working, and excellent, band) deserves more – at the least, a series of official concert recordings, given that they were such an incredible live band. (Unplugged, while a fine set, doesn’t do them justice.) I’d love nothing more than to relive their short set at WXPN’s Five-Star Night in 1992…and given that three of those songs turned up as bonus tracks the 1993 British “Candy Everybody Wants” CD single, one wonders why the entire show wasn’t released. The same goes for their 1988 set at Sadler Wells Theatre in London, which was recorded by BBC 6 Radio, plus others.
Which is all beside the point of this “Essentials” plug, I suppose. Forgive the rant.
Anyway, from their first independent releases to their last CD, Unplugged, the Natalie-era 10K Maniacs never released a bum album. But – when it comes to stone-cold classics – two have more than stood the test of time: their 1987 breakthrough, In My Tribe, and their 1992 studio swan song, Our Time in Eden. At some to-be-determined time in the future, I’ll revisit the former; today, however, I’m spotlighting the latter.To my ears, it’s a perfect set. As I explained in my recap of 1992, it’s “everything I love about music: It’s poppy, rocky, bright, light and deep, with melodies that soar and lyrics that, if one listens to them, mean more than most. The juxtaposition of the jangly with the profound is something I adore.” I’d simply add that the addition of the horns and woodwinds from the J.B.’s (James Brown’s band) was a masterstroke, adding a depth to the proceedings. The Maniacs jumped into the deep end of the pool by adding the JB Horns, in other words, and swam with ease.
The album opens with the mesmerizing “Noah’s Dove,” which may well feature Natalie’s finest-ever vocal – or, more likely, one of her best.
It also includes the once-upon-a-long-ago radio and MTV staples of “These Are Days” and “Candy Everybody Wants” –
Other highlights include the fast-tempo “Few and Far Between” and sweeping “Stockton Gala Days” –
One additional thought: The album should have a warning label affixed to it. One listen will beget two and, then, three, four and more – as just happened to me. So, be forewarned.
Here’s the album as a whole:
- Noah’s Dove
- These Are Days
- Few and Far Between
- Stockton Gala Days
- Gold Rush Brides
- How You’ve Grown
- Candy Everybody Wants
- Circle Dream
- If You Intend
- I’m Not the Man