Sunday, October 22, 2006

natalie merchant at west 54th

First as the lead signer for 10,000 Maniacs and then as a solo artist, Natalie Merchant created a series of critically acclaimed (and popular) albums.

Browse the collections of music fans in their 20s and 30s and your likely to find 10,000 Maniacs: MTV Unplugged (the band's last release, a live “best of”) and Tigerlily (Natalie’s first release on her own and home to the hits Wonder and Jealousy).

I’ve always been partial to the lush production on Ophelia, Natalie’s second album, but my favorite is the recording she made for David Byrne’s Sessions at West 54th. From 1997 to 1999, Sessions at West 54th aired on PBS and featured artists like Lyle Lovett, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Daniel Lanois and Keb’ Mo’ playing at Sony’s studios in New York. In November of 1998 it was Natalie’s turn to talk with and play for her friend. The set list was outstanding (and wonderfully surprising) and the performance is exceptional. She sang:

Break Your Heart (from Ophelia)
Peace, Love and Understanding (a cover of the Elvis Costello classic)
Wonder (from Tigerlily)
Gulf of Araby (a cover of a Katell Keinig song)
When They Ring the Golden Bells (from Ophelia)

Susan McKeown joined for the last two tracks.

Picking among these is hard. I wish Sony would relase the full performance to iTunes or issue an EP but, from the concert, only Wonder is available. It is on a Sessions compilation. Perhaps there was reluctance because Wonder and Gulf of Araby are on 1999’s Live in Concert, but I feel the versions are not as good as for West 54th. I was considering the beautiful Golden Bells (my favorite Natlaie song) or the sad Break Your Heart; however, they are superb on Ophelia as well. So, with November approaching, I opted for songs based on message:

The Gulf of Araby (live at West 54th, 11-1998)
Peace, Love and Understanding (live at West 54th, 11-1998)

I hope that you enjoy these very rare tracks. As always, they are available for a limited time.

Bonus link 1: a profile of Katell Keineg in a recent New York Times Magazine
Bonus link 2: For those wishing to catch up with Natalie Merchant, there is a new

I captured the concert direct to hard disk from DSS during a Trio Network rebroadcast and used Sound Forge to remove DC hum and low-level noise. Although I think that the results are good, if someone has a board copy I’d love to have access to it.


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At 5:51 PM, Blogger Jake said...

Natalie's Sessions at West 57th performance is my favorite live recording of the 1990's. Portrait of a fallen world. Moves me to tears every time. Lost my VHS tape of the concert 5 years ago and I've been looking for a decent recording of song ever since. Is there any way it could be reposted? It would mean a great deal to me.


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