Myth America - 2004 - 50 minutes

With 'The House Carpenter's Daughter', Natalie Merchant, formerly of 10,000 Manics, offers a collection of folk songs. On the beautifully packaged album sleeve, she defines a folk song as one that is: "universally loved and understood". Her take on the tradition features an unusual blend of the old and new that's lovingly rendered.

The choice of songs here is the key to the joys of the album. Merchant has chosen songs that best suit her warm but melancholic vocals and she brings her former indie rock sensibilities to the mix, making the material her own. The arrangements are eclectic, in some places paired down to the bare essentials of plaintive banjo, in others revved up with electric guitars.

One of the standouts is album opener, 'Sally Ann', with sweeping violin solos and slowed down vocals. It's followed by her belting out the revolution song, 'Which Side Are You On?'

Her performances have a brooding, contemplative quality which suits the subjects on offer, from hymns to revolution songs to murder ballads. 'The House Carpenter's Daughter' is an interesting album that showcases Merchant's considerable musical lexicon and inimitable style, placing each song within it's own historical context.

Elizabeth O'Neill

Tracklisting: Sally Ann - Which Side Are You On? - Crazy Man Michael - Diver Boy - Weeping Pilgrim - Soldier, Soldier - Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow - House Carpenter - Owensboro - Down On Penny's Farm - Poor Wayfaring Stranger