Preview: Singer Natalie Merchant Is Well-Versed on Her New Album

BY Quinn Bowman  April 20, 2010 at 1:16 PM EDT

After a seven-year hiatus, singer and songwriter Natalie Merchant has just released a two-disc album titled “Leave Your Sleep,” a collection of 26 traditional poems set to original music. The project began shortly after the birth of her daughter six years ago, when she wanted to find a way to introduce her child to both poetry and music.

In preparation, Merchant conducted exhaustive research about the poets. Some are big names, like Robert Louis Stevenson and e.e. cummings. But others, like Charles Carryl, who had been a New York stockbroker, are much less well known.

Though childhood is a theme in of all of the poems, Merchant is quick to say this is not a children’s album. Merchant composed across a variety of musical genres — from gypsy music to jazz, even a sailor’s horn pipe — trying to match each poem with the appropriate sound. She collaborated with over 100 artists on the recording.

Jeffrey Brown will have a full poetry report on the NewsHour about this project in the coming days.

In the meantime, here’s a preview of Merchant rehearsing “The Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” by British poet Charles Causley. It’s a poem that Merchant says is about growing up and becoming disillusioned. (Read the original Causley poem after the jump.)

 

 
 
Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience

by Charles Causley (1917 – 2003)

I had a silver penny
And an apricot tree
And I said to the sailor
On the white quay

‘Sailor O sailor
Will you bring me
If I give you my penny
And my apricot tree

‘A fez from Algeria
An Arab drum to beat
A little gilt sword
And a parakeet?’

And he smiled and he kissed me
As strong as death
And I saw his red tongue
And I felt his sweet breath

‘You may keep your penny
And your apricot tree
And I’ll bring your presents
Back from sea.’

O the ship dipped down
On the rim of the sky
And I waited while three
Long summers went by

Then one steel morning
On the white quay
I saw a grey ship
Come in from sea

Slowly she came
Across the bay
For her flashing rigging
Was shot away

All round her wake
The seabirds cried
And flew in and out
Of the hole in her side

Slowly she came
In the path of the sun
And I heard the sound
Of a distant gun

And a stranger came running
Up to me
From the deck of the ship
And he said, said he

‘O are you the boy
Who would wait on the quay
With the silver penny
And the apricot tree?

‘I’ve a plum-coloured fez
And a drum for thee
And a sword and a parakeet
From over the sea.’

‘O where is the sailor
With bold red hair?
And what is that volley
On the bright air?

‘O where are the other
Girls and boys?
And why have you brought me
Children’s toys?’