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Two years ago, at a librarian conference, I had the unexpected pleasure of hearing Natalie Merchant sing. I didn’t really know much about her, since I wasn’t much of a 10,000 Maniacs fan, but I was blown away by her performance of poetry put to music and since then I’ve taken advantange of any opportunity to hear her. (But I digress from my point.)

Natalie Merchant loves words and she used to recite poetry to her young daughter. In 2010, she recorded a CD, Leave Your Sleep, in which she put to music 26 poems of poets known and obscure. It was the culmination of years of research, finding the poems, digging out biographical information on the poets, some of whom wrote poetry as a sideline or hobby. The result is a marvelous listening adventure; one I constantly go back to.

But, Ms. Merchant didn’t leave it at that because she understands that sometimes artistry is enhanced by the combination of mediums. Today I received my copy of Leave Your Sleep, the picture book, illustrated by the award winning Barbara McClintock. It is a beautiful book in which 19 of the poems on her CD are written out with colorful illustrations. It is a delight for the eyes.  Along with the book is a CD of Ms. Merchant singing these songs. In her introduction, Ms. Merchant writes “Poetry speaks of so much: longing and sadness, joy and beauty, hope and disillusionment…But poetry on the page can be difficult to penetrate; sometimes it needs to be heard.” Or accompanied by illustrations. Leave Your Sleep, both the book and the CD, are the perfect blend of media to bring out the best of these poems.

On December 1, I’m going to hear Ms. Merchant sing some of these songs accompanied by an orchestra. What a perfect way to hear poetry!!! Leave Your Sleep is the perfect gift for a child of any age.  That’s why I treated myself.

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As some of you may know, I’m a big Allman Brothers Band fan. Not the biggest, but big enough. I’ve seen Gregg perform solo a good number of times and the Allman Brothers Band pretty much regularly at the Beacon Theater in New York. So Gregg’s autobiography was a must read, regardless of the reviews, which were pretty good.

My Cross to Bear is an interesting read. It’s like sitting in Gregory’s (his real friends call him Gregory, not Gregg) living room over a cup of coffee (since he’s alcohol/drug free) and listening to him ramble on about his life, his brother, his wives, bandmates, etc. He doesn’t ‘diss’ anyone nor does he reveal any major revelations. His alcohol and drug abuse, as well as that of his bandmates, made for a turbulent life.

However, My Cross to Bear is more notable for what it doesn’t say. Searching for Simplicity is far and away Gregg’s best solo album as well as, in my humble opinion, one of the best blues albums around. It apparently is one that Gregg’s proud of as well. Yet there’s scant mention of it and there’s no mention of why he never plays songs from it in his concerts.  Hittin’ the Note is the best (and only) Allman Brothers album produced recently and he barely mentions it, other than to say Jaimoe came up with the title from one of Berry Oakley’s pet phrases.

While My Cross to Bear is a must for Allman Brothers fans, I’d rather have heard less about the tos and fros of his travels and more about the making of some of the best music we’ll ever hear.

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