Natalie Merchant, "Leave Your Sleep"

76 Billboard Rating

For her first release since "The House Carpenter's Daughter" in 2003, Natalie Merchant has crafted an ambitious double-album that draws upon multiple literary giants for inspiration. The new set, "Leave Your Sleep," features lyrical tributes to famous poems by e.e. cummings, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson and many others throughout the course of 26 tracks. Despite the elaborate concept and overwhelming length, the album soars with gorgeous folk arrangements and Merchant's daring creativity. The song "Calico Pie" slides along with the simple pop of a banjo and fiddle, while the playful jazz of "The Janitor's Boy" utilizes a delightfully unruly horn section. Merchant's voice still retains its subtle power, but the biggest surprise of "Leave Your Sleep" is her assuredness while dabbling in unique lyrical ideas. The broad spectrum of genres Merchant explores also prevents the set from feeling overlong. She has returned with a painstakingly constructed record that feels light and nimble, a credit to her still-impressive talent as a songwriter. --Jason Lipshutz

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