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10,000 Maniacs


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Folk-flavoured alternative pop/rock

Status:

Most recent release, Playing Favorites (live, 2016); most recent studio release of original material, Music From The Motion Picture (2013)

See also:

The Official 10,000 Maniacs site

Wikipedia's entry for 10,000 Maniacs (includes band member timeline)

See the Ectophiles' Guide entries for former members Natalie Merchant's solo work, John and Mary's duo work, Mary Ramsey's site, and Oskar Saville's MySpace page.

Comparisons:

Psychowelders, The Cranberries, Fairground Attraction. (brage@delta.dk)

They were the first in this genre of female-led pop groups, but have been followed by such bands as Innocence Mission, The Sundays, and The Cranberries. (Neile)

Covers/own material:

Own, occasional covers

General comments:

In particular the early 10,000 Maniacs stuff is well worth getting (I don't know the middle stuff): Natalie Merchant's voice is very good (though a bit difficult to understand) and the slightly folky music fits it perfectly. (brage@delta.dk)

They used to be my favorite band, but they've just lost the spark. I had such high hopes for them when I heard that John Lombardo had come back and Mary Ramsey had joined up—John and Mary's two CDs are favorites of mine. But now they're just bland and boring. :(
     If your favorite 10,000 Maniacs albums are In My Tribe and Our Time In Eden, you probably won't like the direction the band is going in now. When Natalie Merchant left the band, Mary Ramsey, who also plays violin and viola, took over lead vocals. She played on 10,000 Maniac's last tour with Natalie Merchant (and also on Our Time In Eden and Unplugged), and is perhaps best known as part of the duo John and Mary ("John" is John Lombardo, founding member of 10,000 Maniacs, who has rejoined the band as well). She sounds remarkably like Natalie Merchant, and with her viola adds a wonderful dimension to the band.
     For an idea of where 10,000 Maniacs are going with their sound, listen to their 1985 album The Wishing Chair, then listen to John and Mary's albums Victory Garden and The Weedkiller's Daughter immediately thereafter. Glom both sounds together, and you've got it. However, the spark in the songwriting just isn't there any more. They would do better to just flesh out John and Mary's two albums' worth of material and go with that. (meth@smoe.org)

I've been a fan of the band a long time. I bought "Human Conflict Number Five" when it came out back in 1984. I heard "Planned Obsolescence" on the radio and absolutely had to own it. But I wasn't a die hard yet. I didn't buy "Secrets of the I-Ching" when it came out. It wasn't until I heard "My Mother The War" that I became a complete convert. The Wishing Chair hooked me in completely and 10,000 Maniacs became one of my favorite bands.
     I wasn't surprised when Natalie Merchant left the band. It seemed she had been preparing for it for quite a while. Egos have been the death of many of the bands I've enjoyed through the years, which is why this new version of the band is possibly stronger than the original. They are essentially starting over, with a new singer on a new label. No egos present. All songwriting is nicely credited to 10,000 Maniacs, instead of individual credits. And Mary seems to me to be a stronger singer than Natalie. Natalie's voice has a lot of character, with her distinctive accent. It's also a voice that turned more than a few of my friends off. Mary's voice is slightly similar to Natalie's, but it's smoother and possibly has a little more range. And her voila adds a new element to the musical texture that the band weaves. (pmcohen@voicenet.com)

Can I just say how bad I feel for 10,000 Maniacs? I mean, they were at their peak, had their biggest hit with "These are Days", toured with R.E.M., had a big unplugged album with a big single, then Natalie left and they disspeared. They're on an independent label now, I guess Geffen dropped them. And they're still good! Mary Ramsey has a nice voice and plays and a mean viola and their songs now are more radio-friendly than in the Natalie days. It just bums me out cause they are and were my favorite band. The albums with Natalie are better than the new ones, but they're still good! If you gave up on them in the past, give them a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. (nnadel@hotmail.com)

i thought the return of john lombardo to 10,000 maniacs would be a return to old glory but it doesn't seem to be the case. (woj@smoe.org)

They are my absolute favorite thing on the planet period. I am in love with everything about them, from Rob Buck's shimmering guitar style, to the far-spanning, historical/political lyrics, Natalie's voice, Mary's voice, the whole band's groove, John Lombardo's songwriting, I'm just a 100% mega fan. I own everything that could possibly have anything to do with them.
     If I were to sum up 10,000 Maniacs, a couple words would come to mind, but one of the most prevailent would be arty. The band's sound and feel is defined by Rob Buck's distinctive glistening lead guitar, folkish melodies, bookish, historical/political, poetic lyricism and an all around feel of beauty and celebration of the enlightened and uplifting. A lot of the songs are about war, particularly WWII, and a lot of the songs are just reflections on various little aspects of everyday life.
     There are basically three distinct periods in the band's timeline. The first lasted from their formation in 1981 until 1986. At this point the lineup was Steve Gustafson (bass), Robert Buck (lead guitar), Dennis Drew (keyboards), Natalie Merchant (vocals) and John Lombardo (guitar/vocals). They would find a permanent drummer in 1983 in the person of Jerome Augustyniak. The band started out as being very ecclectic, incorporating a multitude styles that varied from reggae to punk to folk, but by the time of their major label debut The Wishing Chair, they had become more of a consise arty folk unit. This was powerful and original stuff. Natalie's voice was youthful but soared with a vitality and energy that I don't think she's ever recaptured. Rob's chiming guitar leads were just as up front as Natalie's vocals, and the combination was very beautiful and invigorating. This was John Lomabrdo's musical vision really coming together for the first time, and The Wishing Chair is often referred to as "his baby".
     In 1986, due to financial concerns and Elektra's pressuring the band to go in a more comercial direction, Lombardo left 10,000 Maniacs. He would later carry on The Wishing Chair sound in his duo with Mary Ramsey, but 10,000 Maniacs continued on as a five-piece, and their sound shifted to an extent. This is phase two. They acquired a more pop-oriented feel, with Natalie's lyrics focusing on distinctive (often political) topics rather than dreamy poetic prosing. The records In My Tribe (1987), Blind Man's Zoo (1989), Our Time In Eden (1992) and MTV Unplugged (1994) were released during this stage.
     Phase three began when Natalie Merchant left in 1993, and John Lombardo returned in 1994 bringing along Mary Ramsey to replace Natalie. With John again the prime creative force in the Maniacs he of course took up where he left off back in 1985. The band's sound became more folkish again with lyrical concerns returning to the dreamier prose style. Mary Ramsey's voice is purer than Natalie's, and her added viola is a rich addition to the band's glistening feel. So far two albums have been created during this period, Love Among The Ruins and the independantly released The Earth Pressed Flat.
     There has been a lot of discussion amongst the band's fanbase about which is better, Natalie's approach or John's. Although I tend to get more into albums like The Wishing Chair and The Earth Pressed Flat, ultimately John and Natalie both have more similarities in their musical vissions than differences. Perhaps Natalie is more personal and precise in her lyrics, and John and Mary take on a more musing, wandering point of view, but all three look at each song as somewhat of a story, articulating their words in eloquence and beauty. Natalie is often described as being darker and Lombardo is said to head for the light, but they both operate from the same realm, each displaying a different side of the coin if you will. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com )

Comments about live performance:

I don't miss Natalie, I miss John and Mary. I think the two John and Mary discs are better than the last 3 or 4 10,000 Maniacs discs. They went in similar, but not the same, directions. Most of what I like on the John and Mary discs seems to have gotten lost in the band sound of 10,000 Maniacs, and Mary seems to be working too hard to be Natalie Merchant (whereas everyone just naturally thought she was on the John and Mary records!).
     I guess I can't compare too much, because I was unexcited enough by what I heard live not to pick up Love Among The Ruins, though I may at some point anyway. When I saw them live over a year ago, they showed a lot of potential. In fact, I have a tape they were selling of John and Mary+10,000 Maniacs and a few Femmes, that showed some potential too. But live earlier this year I was just bored. And the Roxy Music cover was exciting in concept for the first 20 seconds, but then it never amounted to anything, either live or on the radio. (neal)

i was really psyched to hear the 10,000 maniacs live, and i'm afraid i was pretty disappointed. i've heard good things about them, still think the wishing chair is by far the best maniacs record, and was quite fond of the john and mary records which sort of grew into the new edition of the maniacs. i expected them to be folkier than latter day maniacs, and less, well pretentious. i did think the new material sounded pretty good, and the band's enthusiasm—especially mary ramsey's, she looked like she was having an awful lot of fun—carried the day for a lot of the songs. but for my taste, the 10,000 Maniacs songs played were among my least favorites—on the last few records, merchant's lyrics struck me as self-righteous and preachy, even when they expressed sentiments with which i agree: "candy everybody wants", "what's the matter here," etc. i also had two big quibbles with the arrangements: steve gustafon's bass playing struck me as bland and leaden, a bottom end that was propulsive enough, but that didn't leave much space for the songs to breathe or have a good dynamic sense.
     lead guitarist robert buck has a digital delay trick of piling lots of his bell-like, almost brittle notes on top of each other, scrubbing his hand faster and faster as he moves up the neck, making chiming chords out of a myriad of hanging, fading fragments. it's not a bad trick at all—but his over-reliance on it heightened the sameness of the songs. someone should take his digital delay away—he was a lazier player that night, more formulaic, than the other times i've seen him.
     i should probably note that the enthusiastic crowd disagreed with me totally—the roar of approval that greeted the opening of "these are days" made me feel old (and on the verge of going deaf) and likewise every solo turn buck took got a big cheer. and i don't mean i didn't enjoy the show. ramsey's ability to duplicate merchant's phrasing really is uncanny, and her violin playing provided a nice depth to the band's sound. i like that the new material has less of an emotional remove than most of merchant's writing—i think my expectations were just too high. (dmw@mwmw.com)

Overall, I'd have to say that I'm probably not going to go out of my way to see 10,000 Maniacs play live again anytime soon. Those of you who have known me for a while will realize just how momentous, and a little sad this is.
     (begin: nostalgia)
     You see, before The Nields came along, 10,000 Maniacs were my very favorite band. I drove ridiculous distances to see them play even before I had a reliable means of transport (not to mention the money to actually afford the shows). All throughout my senior year of high school and first couple years of college, I listened to their music all the time. Some of my most cherished college-age memories are directly tied to 10,000 Maniacs' music and live shows. When Natalie Merchant left the band I was determined to stick it out with them, because I loved both John and Mary albums, and I was ecstatic to hear that John Lombardo would be returning to the band and bringing Mary Ramsey with him. I saw them during the early weeks of their "Unscathed" tour, and aside from the loudness of the show I was totally blown away—they were doing a *lot* of really old Maniacs material, stuff from The Wishing Chair and earlier, which was amazing to me because that's where my favorite songs come from, and I'd always wanted to experience them live. I figured the marriage of John and Mary's music to the earlier 10,000 Maniacs aesthetic would be something out of heaven, and anxiously awaited their first album with the new lineup.
     (end: nostalgia)
     Then Love Among The Ruins came out, and as I'm sure you all know, "disappointed" doesn't even begin to cover my reaction to it. :P The creative spark that made the Maniacs so special had clearly departed with Ms. Merchant, and the remaining band members were clearly not in a hurry to find another. Yet I continued to go see them play whenever they came to town, Just Because. Last time I got rather bored toward the end, but I wrote it off to my mood that day. I was looking forward to their set last night, but I have to say I got bored by the second song. :(. Two moments did make it all worthwhile, though: toward the end of the set a familiar bass riff started, and I didn't believe it until I actually heard the first lines: "Planned Obsolescence", from their very first EP called Secrets of the I Ching, later collected on Hope Chest. The only thing that wasn't good about it was the fact that John Lombardo sang it. Mary *really* needs to learn that song, and fast! I long ago decided that if one voice on the planet had to be silenced by decree of the Universe, I'd nominate John Lombardo even above Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. He absolutely canNOT sing. The second moment came in the encore, when they dusted off "Can't Ignore The Train", which I think is my all-time favorite 10,000 Maniacs song. Mary did a really great job with it, too. I was really, really happy after that. :)
     But alas, the Love Among The Ruins material hasn't gotten any better, and the new songs they played don't bode well for the next album, either. If I hear that they've decided just to include John and Mary and pre-1986 10,000 Maniacs material exclusively in their live shows I'll be lined up first at the door, but until then I think I'm done. (meth@smoe.org)

10,000 manics were good, but in a less than satisfying way. they're more of a band than they ever were in the natalie merchant years and their musical performance was very strong—overwhelmingly great at times. unfortunately, the things i don't like about love among the ruins were in evidence on stage as well: the lack of any musically creative drives from john lombardo (whose contributions to the performance consisted almost entirely of completely inaudible acoustic rhythm guitar) and the lack of anything as lyrically strong as natalie's songs. i find the record pretty boring and, as meredith put it, their live show didn't increase my appreciation for it. (well, isn't it ironic that i, of all people, would whine about lyrics...but the fact is that natalie merchant is a significant lyricist, that mary ramsey—or the rest of the band—couldn't write their way out of a paper bag, and that, much as i hate to admit that i was wrong, natalie was much more crucial to the band's previous success, irrespective of her charismatic frontwoman role.)
     however, the handful of previous hits they played ("candy everybody wants", "these are days", "hey jack kerouac", "because the night", "what's the matter here?") were very well done and "stockton gala days" was one of the aforementioned overwhelmingly great moments. they also played a couple john and mary tunes, which were really good. most amusing moment: the first song of the encore was the "re-mix" version of "more than this"—anyone who thought that tee's radio edit on the single was a remix is wrong! they just play it in an entirely different way (which i prefer since it's more interesting and less faithful to the original). (woj@smoe.org)

What a great show! That was my first time to see them live and I was very impressed. They did a lot from the new cd, of course, and several older songs from the Natalie days. I love Mary's voice. It took her a while to warm up to the crowd but once she did, the band just took off! (cvilline@comp.uark.edu)

Recommended first album:

The Wishing Chair. (brage@delta.dk, Neile)

Recordings:


The Wishing Chair

Release info:

1985—Elektra/Asylum, USA—9 60428

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Very high

Group members:

Jerry Augustyniak—drums
Robert Buck—electric guitar/devices, acoustic guitar, mandolin, pedal steel
Dennis Drew—organ, piano, accordion
Steven Gustafson—bass, electric guitar
John Lombardo (John and Mary)—6 and 12 string guitars, bass
Natalie Merchant—vocals

Produced by:

Joe Boyd

Comments:

Great album; clear sound, fresh and inspired like Hope Chest but a bit more polished. (brage@delta.dk)

This felt fresh and new when it appeared on the scene. There was no one else doing this kind of bright catchy jangly folk-tinged rock, and Natalie Merchant's somewhat metallic-feeling voice was very different from other female voices out there (actually, there weren't all that many rock groups with a female lead singer at the time to compare them too). Anyway, I've enjoyed this album for years and it's the one of there's that I still appreciate the most, probably because of the strong folk influence John Lombardo had on their overall sound—but make no mistake, the overall sound is rock, not folk. (Neile)

A masterpiece. Completely spontanious and from the soul of each member. Rob Buck's riffing cascades and soars, Natalie's vocals are carefree and energetic. Most of the music writing is the work of John Lombardo, having a folk melodic tinge. There is even mandolin replacing lead guitar on "Back O' The Moon" and "Everyone a Puzzle Lover". All save for "My Mother the War", a tale of a woman who lost children to WWII, which features whailing guitars and an all around punk feel. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)


In My Tribe

Release info:

1987—Elektra (U.S.A.)—E2 60738

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Natalie Merchant—voice
Robert Buck—guitars, mandolin, pedal steel
Dennis Drew—keyboards
Steven Gustafson—bass guitar
Jerome Augustyniak—drums, percussion

Produced by:

Peter Asher

Comments:

An all-time favorite. (sspan)

The All Music Guide lists this album as the band's peak. This is a fairly common cliché which people who don't know much about the band tend to spout off. I seriously disagree. This is a great little record, retaining some of its predecessor's joyous and spright feel. But it's a bit overproduced and just not quite as imaginitive and innovative as The Wishing Chair, Blind Man's Zoo or The Earth Pressed Flat. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)


Blind Man's Zoo

Release info:

1989—Elektra (U.S.A.)—9 60815

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Jerome Augustyniak—drums of all sorts
Robert Buck—lead and rhythm guitars, both electric and acoustic
Dennis Drew—organ, piano
Steve Gustafson—bass guitar
Natalie Merchant—vocals, pipe organ, piano

Guest artists:

Jevetta Steele—backing vocals
Jason Osborn—arrangement, orchestral direction
Krista Bennion Feeney—first violin
Mitsuru Tsubota—second violin
Louise Schulman—viola
Myron Lutzke—cello
Dennis Godburn—bassoon
Robert Wolinsky—harpsichord
Scott Kuney—classical guitar
Rank Luther—double bass

Produced by:

Peter Asher

Comments:

When I listened to this recently, I was shocked at how preachily self-righteous and mean-spirited the lyrics were—this wasn't how I remembered the album, even though I do remember thinking that the lyrics weren't so great. Wow. The way they hit me over the head ruined the album for me. I could barely stand to listen to it and I don't think I will again for a long time. Give me The Wishing Chair any day. (Neile)

At this point we see Natalie taking on her darker, more haunting approach. Rob Buck's guitar echos in shadowy jangles and the rhythms become bolder. With gorgeous melodies, colorful, insightful lyricism and and a more intense feel, this is the non-Lombardo Maniacs at their peak. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)


Hope Chest/Fredonia Recordings

Release info:

1990 (compilation of material from 1982-83)—Elektra (U.S.A.)—9 60962

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for 10,000 Maniacs fans

Group members:

Jerome Augustyniak—drums
Robert Buck—lead guitar
Dennis Drew—organ
Steven Gustafson—bass guitar
John Lombardo (John and Mary)—rhythm and bass guitars
Natalie Merchant—vocals

Guest artists:

Jim Foti—drums

Comments:

This is a compilation of material recorded before their major-label debut, The Wishing Chair, including material from Secrets of the I Ching.

Very nice album, with lots of good songs. (brage@delta.dk)

The earlier material (what would later become Hope Chest) was very ecclectic, mainly due to the fact that each member was very into a number of various types of music from reggae to punk to folk. There was an obvious punk/DIY tinge, but a great deal of what would become the band's trademark style, Rob Buck's glistening guitar riffs, Natalie Merchant's distinctive, haunting alto, the political/historical lyrical observations, and the frantic, somewhat punkish beats and folkish melodic sense is all evident here. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)


Our Time In Eden

Release info:

1992—Elektra (U.S.A.)—9-61385

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Medium

Group members:

Jerome Augustyniak—drums, percussion
Rob Buck—electric and acoustic guitars, electric sitar, banjo, pedal and lap steels, mandocello
Dennis Drew—Hammond organ, piano, keyboards, accordion
Steven Gustafson—bass guitar
Natalie Merchant—vocals, piano

Guest artists:

Larry Corbett—cello
Paulinho Da Costa—percussion
Bruce Dukov—violin
Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (The JB Horns)—tenor sax
Charles Fleischer—harmonica
Pamela Goldsmith—viola
Kim Laskowski—bassoon
Ralph Morrison—violin
Maceo Parker (The JB Horns)—alto sax
Mary Ramsey (John and Mary)—violin, viola
Atsuko Sato—bassoon
Fred Wesley (The JB Horns)—trombone

Produced by:

Paul Fox

Comments:

This album isn't as good as Hope Chest or The Wishing Chair. It seems much more monotonous and a little uninspired.... (brage@delta.dk)

I had forgotten what a great album this is. I had not listened to it for quite some time but lately I can't keep it out of the player. My fave had always been In My Tribe but I'm thinking that Our Time In Eden may have just one-upped it. (kcd@cray.com)

With this album 10,000 Maniacs complete their transformation from a pioneering college rock band to a progressive adult alternative unit. They also go from being a tight five-person group to a looser ensemble, incorporating horns, strings and a variety of guest musicians. Beautiful lullabies such as "Eden" and "Noah's Dove" are priceless, and the joyous feel of "These Are Days" and "Candy Everybody Wants" is real innovation. A great album, but not quite as tight and affecting as Blind Man's Zoo. In fact, it plays more as a collection of songs rather than a collective work of art. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)


Unplugged

Release info:

1993—Elektra (U.S.A.)—61569

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for 10,000 Maniacs fans

Group members:

Natalie Merchant—vocals, piano
Rob Buck—acoustic guitar
Dennis Drew—piano, Hammond organ, pump organ
Steven Gustafson—acoustic bass
Jerome Augustyniak—drums, percussion

Guest artists:

Bill Dillon—acoustic & slide guitars, mandolin
Richie Stearns—banjo
Morgan Fichter—violin, background vocals
Mary Ramsey (John and Mary)—viola, backing vocals
Jane Scarpantoni—cello
Atsuko Sato, Kim Laskowski—bassoons
Amanda Kramer—piano, pump organ
Jerry Marotta—percussion

Produced by:

Paul Fox

Comments:

I already had this and Our Time In Eden on tape last year, before I bought my CD player, but I might as well share my thoughts at this rediscovering of the Maniacs. Well, they're not as good as I remember, but still good. I remember when I had these albums on tape, I was seriously impressed by Natalie's voice, but now, compared to Tori Amos, Happy Rhodes, Jonatha Brooke, and Meryn Cadell, and everyone else, she rather pales, and the texture of her voice really bothers me. Still, she's a great lyricist, and I don't regret the purchase. (nyxnight@aol.com)

Love Among The Ruins

Release info:

1997—Geffen—GED 25009

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Variable—read the comments below

Group members:

Mary Ramsey (John and Mary)—vocals, viola
John Lombardo (John and Mary)—acoustic & electric guitars
Robert Buck—electric & acoustic guitars
Dennis Drew—Hammond organ, piano
Steven Gustafson—bass
Jerome Augustyniak—drums, percussion, background vocals

Guest artists:

John Keane—guitar
Fred Maher—percussion
Jules Shear—background vocals

Produced by:

John Keane, Fred Maher

Comments:

OK they pulled it off.
     Not that I had any doubts really.
     As I sit here listening to the album I've waited two years for, I feel a great sense of satisfaction with the return of 10,000 Maniacs. I really didn't have any doubts in Mary Ramsey's ability to step in Natalie Merchant's shoes, having both John and Mary albums in my collection. But since Natalie was such a force in their songwriting, I really wondered what the new band would be like. Would they be John and Mary with a new backup band (which wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing, as the John and Mary albums are fantastic). But this isn't the case. The new album is very much 10,000 Maniacs.
     The production is immaculate. It's one of the best sounding albums I've heard this year. The songwriting is not as dark as when Natalie manned the pen. My only regret is that they've made the same mistake the band made on In My Tribe. At that time, the label insisted they do a cover for their first single. So they recorded Cat Steven's "Peace Train". Why on earth they chose to cover a song that Natalie couldn't pronounce is a mystery I'll never understand. Once again, they rely on a cover to introduce the band. This time it's Roxy Music's "More Than This". They do a nice version, but it's probably the most insignificant song on the album. I'd be interested to know if they were forced to do another cover.
     Well, as I guess you can tell I recommend the new album pretty highly. Whether my opinion is worth anything, well.... (pmcohen@voicenet.com)

I finally picked up a copy of Love Among The Ruins and was rather disappointed: being a big Natalie Merchant fan I was looking forward to not liking the new 10,000 Maniacs lineup...but alas, it's pretty damn good...especially the Roxy Music cover "More Than This". (sspan)

One of the disappointments of the year. If it was the first 10,000 Maniacs album I probably never would have bought it at all if I had listened to it first at a listening station in some record store or only heard the rather bad Roxy Music cover song.
     It isn't that I miss Natalie Merchant. I saw the new 10KM lineup live before they even started in on the album, and thought they were great. The stuff 10,000 Maniacs were doing back when John was still in the band was some of their best stuff. The albums John and Mary did together are good. So I had high expectations for Love Among the Ruins.
     Unfortunately the album didn't live up to what it could have been, and instead is (in my opinion) overproduced, bland and boring. That's the disappointment, but I like it more every time I hear it. I would have liked to hear more of Mary's viola, less backing vocals, less of Drew's Hammond and more of Drew's piano, but overall it's a strong effort. I wouldn't call it a great album (at least not by ecto standards), but it is certainly a good one. But disappointing. (mcurry@io.com)

What happens when you take a great band, bring back its original creative spark and add a keen new violist and vocalist, then do absolutely nothing with what you've got and overproduce the hell out of it? Sigh. I can't quite put aside a vague feeling of disappointment listening to the new album. I was expecting more: more viola, more alternatives to the guitar (mandolin especially)—in short, much more John and Mary. And the fact that Mary Ramsey doesn't sound like herself is still bugging me—her voice is a lot more alto than is evident on the recording. I'm sure the producers wanted to minimize the possibility for comparison to Natalie Merchant, but what's the big deal? I agree that releasing their cover of "More Than This" as the first single is probably ill-advised; it's not a particularly good cover of the song, and the originals on the album are much better realized. Still, when all is said and done I'm sure I'll end up listening to the album a lot this summer: it's a good summer-driving disc. (meth@smoe.org)

When I heard they were going to continue without Natalie Merchant, my reaction was "oh no, this is like the Doors without Jim Morrison!". But to my relief, this is not a bad record. OK, it may not be the greatest, and I certainly could do without that Brian Ferry cover but it shows that they will be able to carry on, change and adapt while remaining recognisably 10,000 Maniacs. And that is a huge relief to me, because I used to really like them. And since I also enjoy Natalie Merchant's Tigerlily, now I've got two for the price of one :). (afries@zip.com.au)

Back to their roots here, much more folky than the last few albums. Standouts include "Rainy Day" and "Across the Fields". Old member John Lombardo is back; a lot of the album sounds like his band John and Mary. Recommended to anyone who likes pleasant folk music along the lines of Wild Colonials, Indigo Girls, or early 10,000 Maniacs. Give it a try! Put this one on in the car and try not to sing along. (nnadel@hotmail.com)

Beautiful, shimmering and free-spirited. With Natalie gone and two new members there is a sense of freshness and vitality in the elegant instrumentation and soaring melodies. It is said that the band didn't have the control over this album they'd been hoping for (Geffen called in Jules Shear to re-write three songs) but it still turned out wonderful. This album is similar to Our Time In Eden in that it has an adult alternative tinge, and it is similar to the John and Mary albums in that it is spright and folkish. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)


The Earth Pressed Flat

Release info:

1999

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Jerome Augustyniak—drums, percussion, vocals Robert Buck—guitar Dennis Drew—keyboards, Hammond organ, pump organ, piano, synthesizer Steven Gustafon—bass John Lombardo—acoustic guitar, electric guitar Mary Ramsey—viola, violin, vocals

Guest artists:

Natalie Merchant—vocals

Produced by:

Armand John Petri

Comments:

Sounds a lot like Hope Chest. Standouts include the title track, "On and On", and "Time Turns". John and Mary fans will love it. Similiar to the first album, a little more eclectic and downbeat so far. Great Sandy Denny cover! Come on, give it a try! If you ever liked the Maniacs at all you'll dig it. (nnadel@hotmail.com)

Quite good...better than Love Among The Ruins, not up to the level of Our Time in Eden though, but getting there. I especially like 'In the quiet morning' and the cover of 'Who knows where the time goes?' (sspan)

The new 10,000 Maniacs stuff is just as good, and the newest album, The Earth Pressed Flat, is so ecclectic, so colorful, it's gotta be 10,000 Maniacs's Sgt. Pepper. It is breathtaking to say the least. It is really one of the most powerful records I have ever heard. Extremely similar to The Wishing Chair and even more similar to the John and Mary records. This is due, no doubt, to the fact that the band had more control over the recording process this time around. Check it out! ;-) The band was extremely free and filled with new ideas and creative energy. Plus that, they'd all become killer musicians by now. The songs are eclectic and folksy, all very different and very colorful. "Cabaret" and "On & On" are reminiscent of "Can't Ignore the Train" or "Just as the Tide Was a Flowing", shimmering and energetic, draped with haunting lyrics. "Somebody's Heaven" is intense and cascading, with echoing guitars similar to those in "My Mother the War". "Smallest Step" is triumphant and free-spirited, "In the Quiet Morning", a cover of Mimi Farina and "Who Knows Where the Time Goes", a Fairport Convention tune, are folkish and intelligent. But what is in my opinion, the best song the band has ever recorded is "Once a City", a gutsy, moody arrangement about the Bosnian conflicts. It is very haunting, very dark, with heavy drumming and the sounds of a thunderstorm mixed in. Mary's voice shimmers like a flickering flame amidst the intensity. Brilliant. And so, Love Among The Ruins and The Earth Pressed Flat are very different records, so no one should not check out the latter because of their opinions on the former. (RedWoodenBeads@aol.com)


Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure & Unknown Recordings

Release info:

2004—Elektra/Rhino Records—R273900

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans

Group members:

Natalie Merchant—vocals, piano (1982-1993)
Robert Buck—guitars, mandolin, steel, banjo, devices, synthesizer (1982-1993)
Steven Gustafson—guitar, bass (1982-1993)
John Lombardo—guitars, bass, occasional vocals (1982-1985)
Dennis Drew—organ, piano, accordion (1982-1993)
Jerome Augustyniak—drums, percussion (1983-1993)

Guest artists:

Jim Foti—drums
Don Grolnick—piano on "Verdi Cries"
Dennis Karmazyn—cello on "Verdi Cries"
Novi—viola on "Verdi Cries"
Bob Magnusson—bass on "Verdi Cries"
David Campbell—string arrangement on "Verdi Cries"
Jevetta Steel—vocals on "Trouble Me"
Maceo Parker (The JB Horns)—alto sax on "Candy Everybody Wants"
Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (The JB Horns)—tenor sax on "Candy Everybody Wants"
Fred Wesley (The JB Horns)—trombone on "Candy Everybody Wants"
Larry Corbett—cello on "Jezebel"
Bruce Dukov—violin
Ralph Morrison—violin
Pamela Goldsmith—viola
Paul Buckmaster—arrangement, conducting
Mary Ramsey—violin on "Stockton Gala Days" and "Everyday Is Like Sunday," viola, background vocals
Paulinho Da Costa—percussion on "These Are Days" and "Candy Everybody Wants"
Bill Dillon—acoustic guitar, mandolin, slide guitar, guitar
Richie Stearns—banjo
Amanda Kramer—piano, pump organ, guitar on "To Sir With Love" and "Everyday Is Like Sunday," organ on "Let the Mystery Be"
Jerry Marotta—percussion
Morgan Fichter—violin, background vocals
Jane Scarpantoni—cello
Atsuko Sato—bassoon
Kim Laskowski—bassoon
Laura McWilliam—violin on "Wildwood Flower"
David Bither—acoustic guitar on "Wildwood Flower"
Michael Stipe—vocals on "To Sir With Love"
Tommy LaBella—alto sax on "To Sir With Love"
Tony White—tenor sax on "To Sir With Love"
Kevin Osborne—trombone on "To Sir With Love"
David Byrne—vocals, guitar on "Let the Mystery Be"

Produced by:

10,000 Maniacs, Bill Waldman, Joe Boyd, Peter Asher, Paul Fox, Gary Smith ∓ Lenny Kaye

Comments:

Campfire Songs is a retrospective of Natalie Merchant's years with 10,000 Maniacs. The first disc presents 17 of the band's best and most popular songs in a seamless, chronological flow. You can hear the band evolving, becoming more accessible while maintaining their social consciousness. Disc 2 presents the "obscure & unknown recordings": demos, covers, live recordings. It's more uneven than the first disc, but still has a number of treasures for fans. I particularly like the 3 Our Time In Eden demos. The liner notes are also well done and include reflections from each of the band's members. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Twice Told Tales

Release info:

2015—Cleopatra Records—CLP-2180-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

A really pleasant surprise. This album of traditional songs from the British Isles in contemporary music settings is quite energetic and both like and unlike other traditional music and 10,000 Maniacs albums I've heard (though I'm not really familiar with their post-Natalie Merchant work). Favorite track: "She Moved Through the Fair." (JoAnn Whetsell)


Thanks to Jens P. Tagore Brage and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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