This has been a long time coming. 13 years to be exact since Motherland, Merchant’s last offering, so has it been worth the wait? At times, yes. She’s certainly come a long way since her days with 10,000 Maniacs.
This is mature body of work; strong of lyric, very strong at times - and dark, coupled with those arresting vocals and lush arrangements that mask the end of the world or end of her world themes. But there are too many elements of the tortured singer/songwriter, here, from ‘Giving up everything, my hungry ghost of hopefulness’, to ‘That’ll be the end of the road, when my battered embittered body and soul will go home’, or ‘calamity, it’s going to come’.
There are highlights; the clarinet and sax swathed Black Sheep is mesmerising, while Texas is redolent of Joan Baez in her prime, but overall the unrelenting misery can be hard to take. This is an overcast album, without sunny intervals to lighten the journey. You can’t help thinking cheer up Natalie, It might never happen.