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10,000 Maniacs “The Wishing Chair” (1985)

For the Jamestown band’s debut, Merchant teamed with guitarist John Lombardo for the composition of a stirring song cycle that included the evergreen “My Mother the War.” Merchant’s talents as thoughtful, ruminative lyricist and crafter of moving, memorable vocal melodies are already in evidence here.

10,000 Maniacs “In My Tribe” (1987)

Following Lombardo’s departure from the ranks, Merchant began to write on her own, and to collaborate with band members Rob Buck, Jerry Augustyniak and Dennis Drew, all of whom received writing credits on this flawless alternative-pop collection. The self-penned “Like the Weather” gave Merchant her first taste of the Billboard Top 100, and gave much of the world their first taste of Merchant.

Natalie Merchant “Ophelia” (1998)

Though “Tigerlily,” “Ophelia’s” predecessor, was a bigger hit, it was the latter that pushed Merchant into a new artistic atmosphere. Teaming with British double bassist, composer and arranger Gavin Bryars, Merchant the poet fully bloomed here.

Natalie Merchant “Leave Your Sleep” (2010)

Taking inspiration from her daughter, Merchant spent several years crafting this eloquent album, which managed to, in her words, “turn motherhood into art.”

– Jeff Miers