Natalie Merchant

Live in Concert

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There is little question that Natalie Merchant has a devoted audience, yet it still is curious that she released Live in Concert as her third solo album. After all, two albums don't really provide enough of a repertoire for a live record, especially if she's reluctant to sing 10,000 Maniacs material. Furthermore, she doesn't really change the recorded arrangements of her songs for performance -- which may not be a problem in a live setting, since a concert is about mood as well as music. But when that same performance is translated to disc, it doesn't have the same feeling, and that's the case with Live in Concert. Assembled from the tapes of her five-show stand at the Neil Simon Theater in June 1999, this recording leans heavily on Tigerlily, containing no less than five songs from her solo debut. The remainder of the record is devoted to covers, plus two 10,000 Maniacs numbers and just one song from 1998's Ophelia, the album she was supporting on the tour. Since Ophelia did not match Tigerlily's success, this sequencing highlights the material that the majority of her fans love, but it also makes Live in Concert feel like an alternate version of Tigerlily, especially since there's little difference between these live takes and the original versions. Merchant is in fine voice throughout the record, performing with conviction, and her backing band is appealingly professional, meaning that this is a solid record. However, since its material adheres so faithfully to the original recordings -- even the 10,000 Maniacs songs are only slightly changed -- it only becomes interesting when she tackles songs she hasn't recorded before: the covers, which she reworks into her signature style. Still, it's not enough to make Live in Concert more than anything but a souvenir for hardcore fans.

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