Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Natalie Merchant refuses to classify her new album Leave Your Sleep, released today, as a children's album. "It's a thematic record that was inspired by the whole experience I had of having a child and being in the company of children," Merchant told Granta in a video interview, "but...it's about motherhood too, and that pretty much sums up humanity. It's about being human." Merchant started the project as a gift to her own daughter, and all the songs on the album have to do with childhood. Instead of writing her own lyrics, she set to music poems from the 19th and 20th centuries that were written about, for, or by children. One poem that satisfies all those criteria is Nathalia Crane's The Janitor's Boy "The most exciting discovery to me was Nathalia Crane, who was only a 10-year-old girl [in 1924]," Merchant told Granta. "She submitted poetry to a local newspaper in New York and the poetry editor invited her in, and she came with her mother, of course. The editor assumed the mother was the author, and when he found out it was the child he published her poetry and her photograph, and it was picked up and syndicated throughout the country and she became an overnight sensation. She published nine books by the time she was 16." The first of these was The Janitor's Boy and Other Poems. Merchant worked with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet to create an authentic jazz ambiance for the song that is appropriate to the poem's era. Other poets featured on the album range from the iconic to the obscure: Edward Lear, Charles Causley, Jack Prelutsky, Mervyn Peake, Albert Bigelow Paine, Williaim Brighty Rands, Laurence Alma-Tadema, John Godgrey-Saxe, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and many others. The album features 26 songs in all, but Selections from the Album Leave Your Sleep, an abridged version featuring 16 tracks, is also available.