Monday, May 10, 2010

The Beat of the Meter: Natalie Merchant's Leave Your Sleep

Adapting poems to music is a tricky thing. You have the poet’s intentions regarding meaning and rhythm juxtaposed with the composer’s ideas for music to words that didn’t require them in the first place. At least that’s what a poet might think.

Natalie Merchant has released 26 tracks on 2 CDs adapting poems written for children that is absolutely remarkable for its originality by putting, not only musical notes to words, but styles, genres and diverse time signatures to each one. These songs come in the form of traditional folk music ballads ("Calico Pie") to Klezmer music ("The Dancing Bear"). "The Man in the Wilderness" written by Mother Goose is adapted as a Parisian folk tune. It’s a gorgeous example of how imaginative Merchant is as a composer. Sure the natural meter of the poem can suggest a beat for the music, but to take a children’s poem from the nursery to a French cafĂ© requires a particular talent rarely heard in contemporary pop music. The Fairfield Four make a couple of appearances on this album ("The Peppery Man" and "Calico Cat"). "The Blind Men and the Elephant" also has just enough Southern feel to send you to heaven-on-earth. Five years in the making, Merchant’s time was well spent creating an album that is thoughtful, funny and eclectic. The package includes an excellent book with the poems and a short biography of the poets. A single CD version of Leave Your Sleep is available, but I highly recommend investing in this deluxe edition.

-- John Corcelli is an actor, musician, writer, broadcaster and theatre director.

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