Probably the best album I heard last year was Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant; a collection of poems (by Ogden Nash, Christina Rossetti, e e cummings and Edward Lear among many others) displayed jewel-like in a variety of musical settings, and given shape by that voice - precise but sensual, effortless yet powerful. It's an apt title for the album, as it turned out, because the chorus to Adventures of Isabel got so thoroughly into my head it stopped me sleeping properly for a couple of nights.
It's difficult to convey the quality and breadth of the music on the album, but her own description of how it was made gives a good idea:
"I have always loved many different styles of music but had barely scratched the surface of those genres on my own recordings. This time in the studio I really wanted to experiment so I called on some of the most accomplished musicians in Cajun, bluegrass, reggae, chamber, and early music, jazz, and R&B, as well as Balkan, Chinese, and Celtic folk. Some were old friends and some were artists whose work I had admired from afar, such as The Wynton Marsalis Quintet; Medeski, Martin & Wood; The Klezmatics; members of the New York Philharmonic; Lúnasa; The Chinese Music Ensemble of New York; The Memphis Boys; Katell Keineg; and Hazmat Modine. The sessions were recorded in live ensemble settings to capture a fresh and spontaneous energy; they were some of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had making music."