Artist: 10,000 Maniacs
Album: Twice Told Tales
Label: Cleopatra Records
Release Date: 04/28/2015
When a band loses the a singer that was once such a vital part of their signature sound, the future for that outfit becomes uncertain at best. For all the successes – Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, Yes and Journey with their various singing clones – there are dozens of others groups that have faltered and become more shadows of their former selves once a key member goes off on their own. Check the oldies circuit if you have any doubts. In the case of 10,000 Maniacs, the verdict is still out. While the band’s been bolstered by retaining at least some original members, the loss of Natalie Merchant to a solo career has clearly lowered their profile and relegated them to the status of ‘80s also-rans.
That said, with Twice Told Tales, current lead singer Mary Ramsey and founding member John Lombardo inspire a return to the Maniacs’ seminal sound, a combination of trembling folk discourse and a precious patchwork of wintry melodies and wistful, patchouli-like imagery. There’s little risk in returning to the template, given that the pretext for the album is neatly ensconced in the traditional trappings of British folklore. Fans of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the solo Sandy Denny will doubtless eagerly embrace it.
While there are some songs that may be familiar to the masses — “She Moved Through the Fair,” “Carrickfergus” and “Wild Mountain Thyme” being the most durable standards — only the most ardent anglophiles are likely to know most of them. It matters little though. The performances are so unfailingly lovely that it’s all but impossible not to get swept up in the sentiment and sensitivity. Call it a comeback if you will; by any measure Twice Told Tales qualifies as a Maniacs’ masterpiece.
– Lee Zimmerman