Song of the Day #829: ‘Verdi Cries’ – 10,000 Maniacs

Top Ten Female Vocalists – #8 – Natalie Merchant

I’ve always considered Natalie Merchant the female Michael Stipe. She doesn’t rank as high on this list as Stipe did on his mostly because her solo efforts have largely left me cold. That’s not to take away from her voice, which is my focus here, but it does dampen my enthusiasm for her overall.

As for the voice, she has the same mumbly gravelly quality as Stipe and the connection is so firm in my mind that I’ve always assumed that, like Stipe, she hailed from the south when in fact she was born and launched her career in New York.

I noted that I’m iffy on Merchant’s solo work, but I’m quite fond of her albums with 10,000 Maniacs. Perhaps that’s a reflection on her songwriting collaborators with the band. The albums In My Tribe and Our Time in Eden are essential listening and among the best releases from their decades (the 80s and 90s, respectively).

Today’s track is the closer to In My Tribe and it’s a real beauty — a snapshot of a memory of a beach holiday. Wonderful details like the stolen pastries and overheard opera paint such a vivid picture and Merchant’s plaintive vocals are achingly poignant.

The man in 119 takes his tea alone.
Mornings we all rise to wireless Verdi cries.
I’m hearing opera through the door.
The souls of men and women, impassioned all.
Their voices climb and fall; battle trumpets call.
I fill the bath and climb inside, singing.

He will not touch their pastry
but every day they bring him more.
Gold from the breakfast tray, I steal them all away
and then go and eat them on the shore.

I draw a jackal-headed woman in the sand,
sing of a lover’s fate sealed by jealous hate
then wash my hand in the sea.
With just three days more I’d have just about learned the entire score to Aida.

Holidays must end as you know.
All is memory taken home with me:
the opera, the stolen tea, the sand drawing, the verging sea, all years ago.

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #829: ‘Verdi Cries’ – 10,000 Maniacs

  1. Amy says:

    Very pleased to see Merchant on this list, though she would be higher on mine. I also agree with your observation that she is the female counterpart to Stipe, which is why I love when they sing together.

    Like Stipe, the way Merchant sings SOUNDS somehow always mattered more to me than the actual lyrics she was singing. As much as I love this song, I would have only been able to mention “Aida” as a lyric I could confidently remember was part of it. That’s not true of all of her songs, but it is true of many of them.

    When she sings lyrics that matter to me – such as “These are Days,” a favorite song – her voice makes the material all the more powerful.

    While this isn’t the video I was initially seeking, I just had to share it:

    As Dana has been revisiting his “list” over the past few days, he said Peter Gabriel would definitely be on it, so this will be a special treat for him!

  2. Dana says:

    Well, this is a pick upon which the three of clearly agree. Merchant’s voice is truly unique, distinctive, special, warm and wonderful.

    And, Amy, thank you so much for finding that clip –it reaffirms my feeling that Gabriel belongs on my list — and seeing those three top 10’ers singing together is quite a treat.

  3. Clay says:

    Gabriel never occurred to me when I was compiling my list of male vocalists but he is indeed a wonderful one.

  4. pegclifton says:

    I like her voice a lot, it reminds me of Carly Simon in some of her slower songs, anyone else think of Simon when she sings???

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