Singer Natalie Merchant on side of peace, labor

Music Review

Natalie Merchant fans well understand her intense commitment to peace and social justice. Most of her albums contain one or two songs that reflect where she stands. But on her latest CD, “The House Carpenter’s Daughter” (Myth America Records, P.O. Box 170 Bellows Falls, VT 05101), Merchant vents her rage at the mistreatment of working people and their unions and about the war.

She characterizes this CD as “a collection of traditional and contemporary folk music.” The second cut on the CD is the great labor song, “Which Side are You On.” She sings the song by combining a dirge and militant anger that Florence Reece, who wrote it in 1947, would have been proud of.

In the CD notes Merchant says, “Florence Reece was the wife of a labor organizer for the National Miner’s Union in Harlan County, Kentucky. In 1932 the miners of that region were locked in a bitter and violent struggle with the mine owners and their private security force. In an attempt to intimidate the Reece family, deputies hired by the mining company illegally entered and searched their home. Sam Reece was warned in advance and escaped, but his wife and daughters were terrorized. That night after the men had gone, Florence wrote the lyrics to ‘Which Side are You On?’ on a calendar that hung on the kitchen wall of their home.” Merchant’s inclusion of the song and its description bears stark lessons for today in the current context of the undemocratic USA Patriot Act.

Also on the CD is “Soldier, Soldier,” an antiwar song that came from the Deep South for which Merchant has made her own arrangement. “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” was the first song ever recorded by the famous Carter Family in 1927. On a contemporary folk level, Merchant includes a powerful song, “Sally Ann.” This is a CD that should be in everyone’s collection.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.