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The House Carpenter's Daughter - Natalie Merchant

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Released: 15 Mar 2004 / Label: Myth America

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      02.12.2012 14:29
      Very helpful



      One for fans only

      The House Carpenter's Daughter is an album by Natalie Merchant and was released in 2003. This is a strange collection of (often obscure) folk songs and while the eclectic nature of the album might stretch your patience at times it's worth a listen if you are a fan of the singer. It begins with Sally Ann - written by the Horseflies in 1991. Don't know who the Horseflies are when they are at home but I quite like the song. It (obviously) sounds more modern than much of what follows and the vocal could be Natalie Merchant circa 10,000 Maniacs. The way she softens her voice around the chorus is very affecting. There are some fiddles here which I could take or leave (probably leave) but they don't diminish from the vocal. The vague I'm not quite sure what she is going on about but the imagery is nice Joni Mitchell-esque lyrics feel right up Natalie Merchant's alley too. "A woman of kindness, with bracelets of jade, in China, in Japan, choices are made, you go home with Sally Ann." Which Side Are You On? is next and a cover of a song written by Florence Reece in 1931. Florence Reece was the wife of an important union rep fighting for impoverished mine workers in Kentucky. They were involved in a bitter and violent dispute with the mine owners and this song emerged from the struggle. "Don't scab for the bosses, don't listen to their lies, poor folks ain't got a chance unless they organize. Which side are you on?" Natalie Merchant sounds as if she's on the verge of falling asleep during some songs on this album (I know that's deliberate, you aren't going to do vintage folk songs in the style of John Lydon) but her vocal here feels more melodramatic (in a good way) and she gives it some welly when the chorus lament arrives. It's a good song and and an impressive rendition but I'm not sure it's one I'd return to an awful lot.

      Crazy Man Michael is a cover of a song written by Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick of Fairport Convention. I'm not familiar with Fairport Convention to be honest but I like the song and the vocal by Natalie Merchant. She sounds more falsetto here than she does on the other songs on The House Carpenter's Daughter and the Joni Mitchell strains to her voice at times make this very pleasant and agreeable in a wandering minstrel bunny rabbits in the long grass sort of fashion. The lyrics are enjoyably hippy trippy nonsense too. "Michael he whistles, the simplest of tunes, as he asks of the wild wolves, their pardon, but his true love has flown, into every flower grown, and he must be keeper, of the garden." Diver Boy is an obscure folk song and described by Natalie Merchant as the perfect murder ballad. So you get a story told to you in the lyrics as Natalie Merchant's strident vocal plays out against a backdrop that is most notable for the bass line that drives the song. "Young Henry taking a drink, that night before he went to bed, not thinking of the danger, that crowned all over his head." It's ok but a bit on the nose and one note for me. Weeping Pilgrim is another very lackadaisical and gentle folk song with just the soft chimes of a guitar and Natalie Merchant delivering a very restrained (if slightly throatier than usual) vocal. It's nice but never quite does anything to make it lodge in the memory afterwards but I love some of the vocal inflections. There seem to be some faint backing vocals on this one too. I give this a thumbs-up for Natalie Merchant's voice alone.

      Soldier, Soldier is easily the loudest song on the album. Natalie Merchant says this is a children's song from the Deep South in America used to skip rope to in playgrounds. I can't say I got on with this one to be honest. Natalie Merchant sounds too generic and the song is swampy and heavy and not really my cup of tea. There is a male backing singer too and I found him a bit irritating in the end. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow Tree is a song, we learn from the notes, first recorded by the Carter family in 1927. No idea who the Carter family are but this is one of the fastest songs on the album (it's not exactly Firestarter but it's fast compared to the other songs here) with a lot of fiddles and a backswoods atmosphere of some old barn where Anne Francis might be a witch who turns into a puma as she casts a love spell on someone. I can almost see a bemused Gary Crosby with his guitar stumbling across Bonnie Beecher in a woodland clearing. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow Tree is fine really but just not my cup of tea. A fast hillbilly song with Natalie Merchant going more folky and regional. Great if you like that sort of music. Speaking of Bonnie Beecher, I would love to have had a version of Come Wander With Me on this album. I think Natalie Merchant would have done a great version but maybe it wasn't obscure enough to tickle her fancy.

      House Carpenter is one of the best songs on the album. It's apparently a very famous song that has been recorded many times although I've never heard of it myself. The song is very atmospheric with plucking guitars that never overshadow the gentle and slightly otherworldly vocal by Natalie Merchant. The lyrics are about faithfulness and death and although she obviously didn't write them herself they feel very Natalie Merchant nonetheless. I quite like the strange backswoods feel to this song and it's quite effective the way the song gradually builds up and then gently fades to a close. Owensboro is rather similar to the previous song and very languid. Natalie Merchant sounds almost sedated and slightly indistinct at times in a Tinder Sticks fashion but the effect is certainly pretty if not exactly exciting. The delicate guitar chords here are nicely done and the song has a bittersweet quality that is quite affecting. On the sleeve notes, Natalie Merchant says she found this song on an anthology of American folk songs collected by Elie Siegmeister and published in 1940. Owensboro is a real town in Kentucky and one can practically picture the old mills and sun hazed woods as the song plays. "Well, the folks in town, they dress so fine, and spend their money free, but they would hardly look, at a factory hand, who dresses like you or me."

      Down On Penny's Farm is another hillbilly waltzer that rattles past fairly quickly. Once again it really depends on one's personal taste when it comes to music rather than whether or not you like Natalie Merchant and this is not something I could listen to for very long without getting a headache. Her vocal dexterity is impressive though. She has to phrase lines very quickly to keep up with the music. Finally, the album concludes with Poor Wayfaring Stranger. This is a more gentle song to end the album. Sounds a bit hillbilly and sea shanty but I like the vocal and the falsetto and enjoyed it much more than the other songs on the album in this vein. The House Carpenter's Daughter by its very nature is rather hit or miss but it's always interesting and certainly worth a look if you are a fan.


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