Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve mostly featured MTV Unplugged performances that were milestones of one sort or another. Today I’m closing out the series with a performance that’s notable only because it’s a beautiful performance of one of my favorite songs.
10,000 Maniacs was a big enough deal in the early 90s to score two Unplugged appearances within a few years. The band appeared on the third-ever show (along with Michael Penn) in 1989 and returned for this performance in 1993, with special guest David Byrne.
Our Time in Eden was the last 10,000 Maniacs album to feature Natalie Merchant on lead vocals, and therefore the last 10,000 Maniacs album worth hearing.
I am familiar with only two of the five albums that do feature Merchant — this one and their 1987 breakthrough In My Tribe — but I love both of those records whole-heartedly.
I was actually surprised to discover that Our Time in Eden came out in 1992, because I don’t really associate it with that summer. I believe that’s because I listened to it briefly and dismissed it as an inferior follow-up to Tribe. Only later did I pull it back out and come to truly appreciate it.
It’s been far too long since I’ve revisited 10,000 Maniacs’ 1992 album Our Time in Eden.
Of course, I can say that about hundreds of albums in my music collection. Which is one of the reasons I like these Random iTunes Weekends so much — at their best, they reintroduce me to something I haven’t listened to in years, rekindle memories and allow for a new appreciation of something long forgotten.
Other times I end up with Raffi in Concert.
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.
As this turned into an unofficial theme week about expectations, second impressions and the like, I figured I’d close with an example of a second impression album. That’s a case where you’re already a fan of an artist but you don’t immediately warm to a new release at first, only to return to it down the road and discover that it’s actually quite good.
This is closely related to the situation where you like one album by an artist so much that you can’t bring yourself to make time for a new one. My wife does this all the time. Over the years, when presented with a new album by Josh Rouse, Fiona Apple, John Mayer, Tim McGraw or some other favorite, she might give it a cursory listen but her basic response is “I already have the [artist name here] album I like, why do I need a new one?”
10,000 Maniacs is one of those bands that really defines the sound of my teen years. R.E.M. is another, and I’ve always connected the two because of the distinctive voices of lead singers Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe.
In My Tribe is a stellar album that throws me right back into a very specific time and place… in this case, 1988 in Fairfax County, Virginia, when my sister was introduced to this band by a co-worker and played it that whole summer.