Released in 2010 on the Nonesuch record label, Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep is an impressive collection of children’s poetry, nursery rhymes and lullabies from British and American authors adapted and set to original music by the singer songwriter. The birth of her own daughter in 2003 was the initial catalyst for the project: Natalie Merchant’s quest for different and new material to read to her child growing up quickly turned into a very ambitious undertaking, involving a total of six years of research, writing and arranging.

Natalie Merchant - Leave Your Sleep (2010)
Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep (2010)

The lyrics for Leave Your Sleep are another departure from the way I had written for the past 28 years. I decided to adapt poetry to music that had been created by other writers. I chose works by both well-known and obscure poets, ranging from anonymous nursery rhymes and lullabies to poems by British Victorians, early- and mid- 20th Century Americans, and a few contemporary writers. Ogden Nash, E.E. Cummings, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christina Rossetti, Edward Lear, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Graves are among the most well-known of the group. Natalie Merchant – Nonesuch Records press release

Natalie Merchant: Nursery rhyme of innocence and experience – Charles Causley (1917 – 2003)

An undeniable labour of love with Natalie Merchant’s warm voice as the main instrument, Leave Your Sleep explores childhood and adulthood themes alike through serious meditations, tales of exotic travels, “silly ditties”, scary poems and even “verses to explain death to a child” (Gerard Manley Hopkins). Over the course of a year, a total of 130 musicians took part in the recording sessions “in live ensemble settings to capture a fresh and spontaneous energy”.

Natalie Merchant: The sleepy giant – Charles E. Carryl (1841 – 1920)

Natalie Merchant & Barbara McClintock  - Leave Your Sleep (2012)
Natalie Merchant & Barbara McClintock – Leave Your Sleep (2012)

The complete opus consists of 26 songs covering a wide range of styles (from Reggae and Jazz to Celtic and Chamber music) with prestigious collaborations from members of Irish band Lúnasa, the New York Philarmonic, Medeski, Martin & Wood or The Wynton Marsalis Quintet amongst many others.

Two years later, children’s book author and illustrator Barbara McClintock published a picture book based on 19 songs from the Leave Your Sleep 2CDs. “I’ve always had a love for picture books; their illustrations, poems and stories create and preserve an enchanted place of innocence we move through as children but can return to as adults” noted Natalie Merchant. The hardcover version of Leave Your Sleep was published on November 13th 2012 by Frances Foster Books.

Natalie Merchant: The peppery man – Arthur Macy (1842 – 1904)

In February 2010, the singer performed live a set of five songs from Leave Your Sleep as part of a remarkable TED talk, casting a genuine spell on the audience in the process.