Former 10,000 Maniacs singer Merchant says that over the years friends and fans have been so moved by her plaintive piano-and-voice live solo performances that they have suggested she record a complete album of stripped-down stuff. It's a promising concept but one that Merchant thankfully doesn't pursue on her first album since her 1993 split with the Maniacs.
Although such piano-driven numbers as "Beloved Wife" and "The Letter" are appealing in an earnest, bare-bones way that recalls In My Tribe-era Maniacs, Merchant's uneven solo debut is most striking when she loosens up and takes her gospel-tinged lilt to more dynamic musical ground. "Carnival," the set's first single, is vivid and electric—surprisingly so for an artist who previously came across as a borderline folkie—with thumping rhythm and bluesy guitar riffs. And Merchant's frail-to-feverish vocal crescendo on "River," a tribute to the late actor River Phoenix, creates a spooky, soulful aura.
But Tigerlily really blooms early on. Sporting sultry singing and a hip-hop-inflected arrangement, "San Andreas Fault" kicks off the album and Merchant's solo career with a big bang, and the singer never even has to raise her lovely voice. (Elektra)