The Natalie Merchant Collection NoNeSUCH 8/10 Rethinking Maniac’s solo catalogue A photo in the booklet from Natalie Merchant’s 2010 album Leave Your Sleep, newly boxed in this 10Cd solo-career-spanning set, shows the singer-songwriter in a library, balancing a dozen books on her head with a sly smile. Typically we imagine the former 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman as the officious librarian, scolding us with an insistent finger over her lips. But The Natalie Merchant Collection portrays her more as the mischievous reader, defying authoritarian shushes to make music that is both serious and playful, grounded in history yet making room for whimsy. Especially on her later albums, she emerges as a subtle vocalist and an imaginative storyteller who approaches big ideas about gender, class, race, social justice through character and metaphor. Tigerlily, her best-selling 1995 debut, remains stiffly serious, but Merchant’s finest work may be her least known – namely, her inventive interpretations of old and new folk tunes on 2003’s The House Carpenter’s Daughter. extras: 7/10. In addition to a 100-page book, the set includes two discs of previously unreleased material. Butterfly acts as a new album, picking up where 2014’s Natalie Merchant left off, while Rarities: 1998-2017 is more hit-and-miss but does include a lovely cover of The Kinks’ “The Village Green Preservation Society”.