As someone who liked — but didn’t love — 1980s folk/rock outfit 10,000 Maniacs, I didn’t have many expectations when Natalie Merchant prepared to release her solo debut album in 1995. So imagine my surprise when the sublime “Tigerlily” became one of my favorite records and, even two decades later, remains a platter that I revisit a couple times each year.
For her latest project, the 52-year-old Merchant has returned to her roots. “Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings” features new arrangements of the 11-track multi-platinum album, based on live performances of the tunes Merchant has given over the past 20 years. The set includes a companion DVD featuring a documentary film with interviews, live performances and archival footage.
“‘Tigerlily’ is the most significant album I’ve made because it defined me as an independent songwriter after 12 years in 10,000 Maniacs,” Merchant notes. “It also created a bond between me and an audience that has supported and sustained me for 20 years. I decided to make the ‘Paradise Is There’ album and film for them, to honor the journey that we, and these songs have taken.”
Many of the “Tigerlily” tunes are concert staples for Merchant, including “Carnival,” “Wonder,” “Beloved Wife,” “River” and “Cowboy Romance,” and she breathes new life into those classic cuts. Other keepers include “San Andreas Fault” and “Jealousy.” I think the original album is superior (though it’s a closer call than I expected), but “Paradise Is There” is a must for Merchant’s legion of fans. (Jeffrey Sisk)