To my shame, despite having been a fan of Natalie Merchant's work for over a decade now, I did not buy this album when it came out. After feeling a bit let down by Motherland, and not taken with the idea of a collection of folk songs, I held out for a while before parting with my cash. Even the first few listens did not change my mind- I couldn't bring myself to be positive about this cd.
Then one day I realised that for the week prior it had been my CD of choice for relaxing and unwinding. I realised I knew the tunes, and could sing happily along. I realised the album is nothing short of excellent. It opens with the only song I was already familiar with (albeit from a previously recorded version which was a b-side to 10,000 Maniacs "Because the Night" single), a hauntingly beautiful "Sally-Anne". Natalie Merchant's voice is aging like a fine wine, it gets better with each album and its on fine form here as she moves through an album of hymns (both figurative and literal), ballads and the odd upbeat whimsy and takes in all her favourite subjects (from the many faces of womanhood in "Sally-Ann" to workers rights, poverty, love and religion). The backing musicians and the production seem perfectly keyed into what she's seeking to create and eventually any real admirer of song and songcraft will too.
The House Carpenters Daughter is haunting, subtle, fresh (ironically given the age of most of the songs) and vibrant. It is the album of an artist who is creatively wealthy enough to make an entire album of other people's songs quintessentially her own and more than makes up for the slightly directionless Motherland. Of all her works I think only Ophelia and possibly In My Tribe have surpassed it and I'm proud to say that after this I will buy her next album immediately no matter my preconceptions.