Picks and Pans Review: Motherland

updated 12/03/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

Natalie Merchant (Elektra)

Since leaving 10,000 Maniacs in 1993, Natalie Merchant has seemingly come up with 10,000 social issues to sing about. This third solo outing is more music for the despondent. Racism, embattled self-esteem and love gone sour all make appearances here. Yet even when she tries to lighten things up musically on "Saint Judas," a rollicking, blue-grassy blend of softly strummed banjo and grinding guitars, the lyrics are about a lynching. She also missteps on a couple of neoclassical ballads, which just come off as strange.

On the timely title track, though, Merchant's vigorous alto captures a sense of national yearning when she plaintively asks for someone to "cradle me, close my eyes/ Lullaby me to sleep." But it's the sardonic "Golden Boy" that shines brightest, as an acerbic Merchant rails against commercialism: "Heroes are born/Idols are made/ We're all fools for this factory fame."

Bottom Line: Eclectic and erratic

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