It has been a while since Natalie Merchant released a new album. In fact, Keep Your Courage is her first album since her self-titled album released in 2014. Despite the long break between albums, she remains one of those artists that you can’t mistake for anyone else.
Of the new album, she said, “The songs contained within this album were written and recorded during the pandemic, a period of great flux and fear on every level. But this is not an album about the coronavirus or the chaos it caused. For the most part, this is an album about the human heart.” She is correct about that. It is an album that takes you through a range of emotions.
The album begins with two duets with Abena Koomson-Davis of Resistance Revival Chorus. Of Koomson-Davis, Merchant said, “I invited Abena to sing at Radio City Music Hall for a telecast to thank healthcare workers impacted by COVID. At that event, I promised we would make a record together, definitely. I hadn’t even written the songs, but I loved the way that our voices blended and wanted us to sing together.”
She is correct in her assessment of how well their voices blend together. “Big Girls” is a piano pop song with strings and horns. Both singers have a rich voice with Koomson-Davis providing a soulful compliment to Merchant’s unmistakable voice. The message of the song is to hold on through life’s difficulties. The message is made even more beautiful by the voices that carry it. “Come on, Aphrodite” is an unabashed love song with horns that bring a brightness and warmth to the sound. It is a plea to the goddess of love and beauty In it, Merchant and Koomson-Davis sing a plea to the goddess of love and beauty to experience all that love is. Part of that plea is, “make me head over heels, make me drunk, make me blind, over the moon, half out of my mind.” Don’t be surprised if this song puts a smile on your face.
“Hunting the Wren” is a song that catches the attention for its dramatic quality. At the beginning of the song, the drama is created by Merchant’s voice over minimal instrumentation. As the song progresses, the drama is furthered by a beat that sounds like something that might accompany soldiers into battle. At points in the song, the strings swell and lend a cinematic quality to the song.
At the beginning of “Eye of The Storm”, you hear Merchant sing over an acoustic guitar. At some point, the song takes a decided turn toward Celtic sounds. No one is going to call this a punk song, but it comes across as the kind of song a Celtic punk band might play when they want to do an acoustic tune.
Keep Your Courage (Nonesuch Records) by Natalie Merchant shows in a variety of ways that she is a unique artist. It is impossible to mistake her voice for any other singer. In addition, these songs are lushly arranged with strings and occasional horns. Her voice is enough to carry songs with minimal instrumentation, but in these arrangements, it is another layer in the depth and complexity. On top of all of that, her lyrics have a literary quality that meshes well with the rich instrumentation. You might want to listen to this album with some good headphones so you can hear the intricate layers in the song. However, no matter how you choose to listen to it, know that you will be taken on an emotional journey. The album is available everywhere now. Find your copy here.
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Show Review: Newport Folk Festival 2022