The Natalie Merchant Collection (10CD)
10CD, Box Set
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Audio CD, Box set, July 14, 2017
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The Natalie Merchant Collection comprises ten discs, including all eight of her solo studio albums from the past three decades. A ninth disc, Butterfly, is a new studio set featuring four new songs and six reinterpreted selections from her catalog, all arranged for string quartet. The final disc is Rarities, a collection of fifteen rare and previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1998 and 2017, which offers a unique view of Merchant's creative experimentation through home studio demos, album outtakes, live tracks, and collaborations with diverse artists like Billy Bragg, David Byrne, The Chieftains, Cowboy Junkies, and Amy Helm. The package includes a 100-page lyric book and pictorial history of the singer-songwriter's solo career-an archival treasure box for collectors.
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But wait! there is more! much more! CD9 (9 tracks) "Butterfly" is a new studio album where Merchant once again, as she did on her 2015 album Paradise Is Here, revisits her catalog and reimagines tunes in a different setting, this time in a string quartet setting. This album is heavy on the Ophelia album, as 4 of the 9 songs come from Ophelia. To entice us yet more, there are also 3 brand new songs on here: Butterfly, Baby Mine, and Andalucía. Rounding out the set is one song reimagined from "Motherland" and from "Leave Your Sleep" each. And we're not done! CD10 (15 tracks) "Rarities" brings a treasure trove of, well,... rarities, including previously unreleased tracks (like "Order 1081"), demos (like "Saint Judas", for the "Motherland" album), and tough to find tracks like "Learning The Game" (from the Listen To Me: Buddy Holly tribute album). Absolutely amazing. And yes, it also contains a track ("The Gulf of Araby") from the only album released by Natalie that is not included in this box set, and that is of course her 1999 "Live in Concert" album. If you're going to this great length, why not include the live album too? But in the end it's a minor quibble. Even if you have most, if not all, of the 7 previous studio albums, this box is STILL worth getting for CD9 and CD10, and the outstanding booklet that comes with this, considering the absolutely incredibly fan-friendly low price (less than $5 per CD) this box sells at.
Since Amazon does not have a track listing, here the track list of CD9 and CD10: CD9 ("Butterfly"): 1.Butterfly 2.She Devil 3.Baby Mine 4.Frozen Charlotte 5.Ophelia 6.The Worst Thing 7.The Man In the Wilderness 8.My Skin 9.Andalucia. CD10 ("Rarities") 1.The Village Green Preservation Society 2.Too Long At the Fair 3.Order 1081 4.To Love Is to Bury 5.Saint Judas 6.Birds and Ships 7.The Lowlands of Holland 8.Sonnet 73 9.Learning the Game 10.My Little Sweet Baby 11.Political Science 12.Build a Levee 13.Sit Down Sister 14.The Gulf of Araby 15.Portofino
I would say the CD of rarities is a mixed bag. Natalie, historically, is at her worst when she’s 1) doing slow, or otherwise tiring, numbers that lack the usual energy, or 2) getting preachy/political. I was only up to track 3 on the rarities disc before finding a song where she does both. At the same time, there are numbers very worth hearing, her cover of the Kinks’ “Village Preservation Society” for instance. I pretty much expected the rarities disc to be a mixed bag though so I’m not too surprised.
The nice surprise is the disc of new recordings called “Butterfly”, including some brand-new new songs, as well as recent covers of some of her older songs. The entire CD sounds more like Natalie with orchestral accompaniment as opposed her with a working band.
The CD “Butterfly” works well. When Natalie covered her own songs on her album “Paradise Is There”, I thought she missed the boat. She was trying to recreate songs that original guitarist Jennifer Turner had a lot to do with getting off the ground, but without using Turner on the re-recordings. On “Butterfly” however, when Natalie covers her own songs, you don’t miss the original versions as the new versions have such an intimate feel to them. I also liked about “Butterfly” that she covered a number of songs from her album “Ophelia”, which is what I consider her best solo album, with her album “Tigerlilly” running a close second, and her folk song album “The House Carpenter’s Daughter” following those two.
P.S. You can also find on Amazon many other reviews I’ve done for Natalie CDs, as well as 10,000 Maniacs CDs.
The rest of the albums are, of course, masterpieces but I already own them. I haven't looked at the booklet but after a lifetime of buying Box Sets and The Complete Recordings, the reality is that I am not into these booklets and will probably never read them.
It is unfortunate that you have to buy the complete recordings to get the 1 disc you really want (Butterfly). But that's the way with aging artists that need to figure out a way to re-capitalize on past work.