After maintaining a low profile for some time, former 10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant is back with the eye-opening Leave Your Sleep, her first studio album in seven years. The two-disc, 26-track, highly eclectic, meticulously researched, hugely ambitious project is stunning in its scope and realization, succeeding on its charm and vivid arrangements of music ranging from folk to jazz, reggae, Celtic, Appalachian, Chinese, and touches of classical along with folk rock. Merchant wrote all the music to accompany poetry by writers equally acclaimed (Ogden Nash, e.e. cummings, Robert Louis Stevenson) and obscure, their work united by acute senses of wonderment, whimsy, eccentricity, and surrealism, since many were written for children. Mother Goose is present, but it's far from a kids' record, rather embracing the breadth of human innocence and experience, defying age. The range of Merchant's contributors is equally broad: The Wynton Marsalis Quartet makes Nathalia Crane's "The Janitor's Boy" into a trad jazz jaunt, Albert Bigelow Paine's "The Dancing Bear" becomes a klezmer romp at the hands of the Klezmatics, and the Fairfield Four and Hazmat Modine douse Arthur Macy's "The Peppery Man" with gospel and blues. All the while Merchant's distinctly textured voice and sly phrasing seep into each tune, at once a unifying force but also adapting to her surroundings in chameleon-like fashion. On tour Merchant will be accompanied by an eight-piece band that leans toward chamber folk.
Sat., July 24, 8 p.m., 2010