Since her days as front woman for cult fave 10,000 Maniacs, Merchant has balanced weighty social topics (child abuse, illiteracy, women's issues) with breezier folk-rock fare. But on her new release, Motherland, don't look for anything resembling the joyous abandon of "Like the Weather." Merchant keeps things heavy with songs about lynching (the effective "St. Judas"), the dangers of life with men, women's self-image, Columbine High School, and did I mention the dangers of men? She scores with a haunting ballad about the late artist/illustrator Henry Darger (a janitor who left behind an unpublished 17,000-page fantasy manuscript) and a surprisingly sexy, Hammond-drenched "Put the Law on You."
But it's the title track and the chaotic "This House Is On Fire" that take on increased importance in a post-September 11 world (though the record was finished two days before the attacks). "It's all gonna catch like a house on fire / spark and evil blaze and burn higher," she sings. And though she admits earlier in the lyric to "not having the gift of prophesy," her die-hard admirers might just disagree. Expect a heavy helping of Motherland along with solo and Maniacs material at the show.