Being that we're neck-deep in the era of indie-rock reunions, I'm shocked that singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant hasn't yet gotten back together with 10,000 Maniacs. The New York band with whom she rose to fame nearly 30 years ago before exiting in 1993 to launch a solo career has continued in her absence with a string of replacement frontwomen. No matter — at least Merchant has been prolific enough on her own to keep such reunion thoughts at bay. Oh, scratch that. Before this past April, she hadn't released an album since 2003's underwhelming folk foray The House Carpenter's Daughter. In fairness, Merchant had a daughter of her own that year and took an extra-long maternity leave. Her new Leave Your Sleep is a direct result of those child-rearing years — initially slated to be a "lullabies album," she ended up setting more than two-dozen poems by e.e. cummings, Ogden Nash, Christina Rossetti, Robert Graves, and others that she'd read to her daughter to original music in styles including Appalachian folk, jazz, reggae, and klezmer, as well as the refined, melodic indie-pop with which she first made her name. Sounds pretentious, perhaps, but the album sports far more hits than misses, and Merchant's voice remains as smooth, supple, and distinctive as you remember it. The only reunion here is with her devoted fanbase, which has undoubtedly missed her.
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