Album Review: Natalie Merchant, ‘Keep Your Courage’
On her first album of new material since her 2014 self-titled album, Natalie Merchant weaves a spell, spinning out silken webs of captivating melodies and imbricating us in ethereal tales that traverse the fragile borders between the spiritual and the physical. Merchant’s vocal phrasings touch the songs tenderly, allowing the lyrics to breath and come to vivacious life.
“Big Girls,” the album’s opening track, opens in spare fashion with Merchant singing over gently flowing piano notes. It slowly blossoms into lushly soulful symphonic pop, featuring the transcendent vocals of Abena Koomson-Davis of Resistance Revival Chorus.
Koomson-Davis joins Merchant on “Come On Aphrodite” with call-and-response vocals in a plea to the goddess of love to be the singer’s muse; the gospel-inflected soul song rides high on waves of punchy horns. “Sister Tilly” opens as a waltzing, Brahms-like lullaby before spiraling into spaciously unfurling pop rhythms. The dreamy “Guardian Angels” unfolds in the exquisite spaciousness Merchant creates with simple guitar picking and her voice; layer-by-layer, the song wraps us in a warm psychedelic folk quilt. “Eye of the Storm” is by turns a quiet and rousing Celtic song that evokes the hush of the “eye of the storm” while capturing the fierce gales that precede and follow the quiet, while the New Orleans-style “Tower of Babel” slides along in a jazz vamp.
The album closes with the tender “The Feast of Saint Valentine,” a song that urges us to follow the courage in our hearts in the midst of the chaos and division around us because, Merchant sings, “Love will set you free and love will be your bonds/Love will win.”
Keep Your Courage showcases Natalie Merchant’s soulful songwriting. Her ability to create atmospheric songs invites us to find ways we can negotiate the permeable boundaries between the spiritual and the physical.
Keep Your Courage is available HERE.
Music & Merch
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