Prepare to fall in love all over again. Or get scolded for being a complete and utter heathen. Or both, to be honest.
As part of her first major concert tour in seven years, Natalie Merchant, once a Maniac, still one of the most incandescent singers in popular music, will play Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Aug. 24.
That's a sweet get for the local venue — even though the totally intimidating Merchant terrifies the heck out of me. My initial reaction to the news was "Cool!" followed by an imagined interview with the singer in which I tragically blurt "I eat steak" and "I like Burt Reynolds movies" within the first ill-fated minute.
But I digress: The clean-living Merchant is touring behind new concept album Leave Your Sleep, 26 songs based on obscure poetry of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the arrangements are predictably Victorian in their sensibilities, a la ornate background music for a PBS pledge drive, which is no doubt Merchant's idea of must-see TV (that is, if she actually owns a TV).
But great, grooving swaths of Leave Your Sleep plug the delicate verse of such luminaries as Ogden Nash, Edward Lear and E.E. Cummings into reggae, jazz and R&B frameworks. And you better believe her eight-piece band will be versatile enough to work through all of those.
If you're wondering if Merchant will play a bunch of 10,000 Maniacs, my guess would be no. Oh, you might get Eat for Two, because she's a mother now and she worries about all her children of the earth. And she might toss in Carnival from her solo days because she still likes to bust out that hip-shimmy move.
But Merchant has been working on the ambitious Leave Your Sleep for a long time, and that's what she wants you to hear. And you better hear it, too: Gabbers and related chit-chats will get shushed. You can also expect poetry tutorials, a creepy slide show and references that make you feel like a moron.
I know, I know: I'm happy to have her back, too.
Tickets go on sale Friday at noon. Prices range from $60 to $35. Call (727) 791-7400 or go to rutheckerdhall.com for info.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog runs every Sunday in Floridian.