Natalie Merchant’s latest, Leave Your Sleep, is childlike for two reasons. First, it’s a concept album exploring the ins and outs of childhood, reinterpreting American and British poetry about childhood. But second, it’s music that both children and adults could enjoy. These aren’t nursery rhymes or sing-a-longs. Merchant’s voice — low, stable, soothing — is “Rock-A-Bye Baby” embodied. On “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience,” Merchant dances in and out of Celtic melodies. “The Dancing Bear” flirts with klezmer; “Calico Pie” with bluegrass, “The Janitor’s Boy” with old-timey jazz. But across genres, styles and moods, Merchant is always easy on the ears.
But the shtick — varied, whimsical — gets tired occasionally. Even cheesy. “Topsyturvey-World” plays with a reggae beat — and it sticks out from the general, downplayed mood of the rest of the record. Though “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” features the amazing trumpet skills of Wynton Marsalis, the lyrics are pretty silly. So maybe this is an album more for kids than for adults after all.