- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

The Merriweather Post Pavilion heats up without any help from the sun this week, as two powerful female artists take the stage in support of studio albums that represent both personal and professional triumphs.
Natalie Merchant's third solo album, "Motherland," follows her departure from the highly successful folk-rock group 10,000 Maniacs in 1993, while she continues to write songs that reflect the world's artistic, social and political tapestry.
"I look to artists like Woody Guthrie, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and the precedents they set for rock music to inform and teach," said Miss Merchant, on tour in the Midwest. "But music is so different these days. It is hard to imagine a song like Neil Young's 'Southern Man' being a hit on today's Top-40 radio."
Miss Merchant firmly established herself as a thought-provoking poet not afraid to tackle subjects from the interpersonal to the highly political with hits such as "These are the Days," "Wonder" and "Jealousy" each of them offering her perspective of the world and the emotions that drive it.
She quickly became the ultimate throaty diva/folk star whose stage mannerism of shielding herself behind her waist-length hair then peeking out with coquettish charm, created an aura of reclusiveness and girl-next-door sexiness.
"I started out in music at a very early age, 17, and was really quite precocious, and while I did not understand songwriting and music, I did it anyway," Miss Merchant says. "Now, I feel that I have a confidence that comes from many years of writing and performing, and that the work I am doing today has progressed.
"I have been fortunate to play with other musicians that have instilled in me the ideology and importance of making music."
This artist's latest work is a collection of 12 songs that range from the worldwide sound of Arabic-influenced strings and a reggae rhythm to the remarkable orchestral arrangements of Stephen Barber.
"It is always hard to identify one favorite song, but I am quite proud of this album's title song, 'Motherland.' I guess it is my current favorite," Miss Merchant said.
Though the album was finished before the September 11 attacks, "Motherland" offers a poignant plea for innocence that seems to foreshadow how much we, as a nation, would mourn our loss of invincibility.
On "Motherland" Miss Merchant has combined distorted electric guitars with a reggae beat and Arabic-influenced strings and flutes.
The album's opening song, "The House Is On Fire," lets the listener know that this effort represents something that, while not out of the norm for Miss Merchant, opens avenues both musically and thematically. Influenced by North African pop music in particular by the Egyptian artist Um Khalsum, of whom she is a fan the song addresses the political uproar over the 2000 presidential election and the disillusion of anti-globalization protesters after the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999.
Miss Merchant's ability to shine a light on creative people can be found in such tracks as "Henry Darger."
The late Mr. Darger (1892-1973), a little-known, obsessively reclusive artist and writer who died alone in Chicago, leaving a hand-bound manuscript of more than 17,000 pages, has set Miss Merchant on a personal quest for more knowledge about the artist and his work, and has given her a lyrical muse.
"I became aware of Darger in the early '80s while touring with Michael Stipe and REM," she said. "We stepped into a small folk-art gallery in New Orleans that had just purchased ten pieces of his work for $100 each but that now sell for tens of thousands. I was fascinated by the drawings of this reclusive man who worked on his art and a novel that eventually exceeded 17,000 pages of words and illustrations."
Miss Merchant's appearance at Merriweather on Sunday promises to be a special event for the artist, her fellow musicians and the audience: It's the last date on the group's nine-month tour.
"As a group, we have been together for not only this tour, but also for the hundreds of hours we spent creating 'Motherland,' " Miss Merchant said. "And we all agree that not only are we very much a family, but that this is the best band, the best chemistry that we have ever been a part of."

Sheryl Crow, on tour promoting her fourth studio album, "C'mon C'mon," will give fans at Merriweather on Saturday more songs to tap a toe to on a steamy summer day.
Exploding onto the popular music scene in 1993 with radio and commercial hits "All I Want To Do (is Have Some Fun)" and "Leaving Las Vegas" from her debut album "Tuesday Night Music Club" Miss Crow became a household name.
Almost 10 years later, this just-turned-40, Missouri-born honey blonde has established herself as one of the hardest-working and most visible woman in rock music. She is seen everywhere, whether opening for the Rolling Stones or making every late-night television appearance available.
A couple of years ago, Miss Crow seemed to almost disappear, but she has spent the past two years writing and recording her latest release with a bit of assistance from Lenny Kravitz, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Natalie Maines and Emmylou Harris.
"C'mon C'mon" combines Miss Crow's ability to rock with her manic moods as they swing from the introspective, heartbreaking "Weather Channel" to the single-pop-rock hit "Soak Up The Sun," which is Miss Crow at her classic, folk-rock finest.

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