Title: San Andreas Fault
Artist: Natalie Merchant
For some reason, I have a generally negative impression of Natalie Merchant, which seems unjustified. I own and have enjoyed both Tigerlily and its successor Ophelia, but I still feel as if I don't really take her seriously as an artist. I was never a big fan of 10,000 Maniacs so perhaps these feelings stem from my early experiences, but I must admit I have enjoyed revisiting her solo debut tonight.
Tigerlily is not going to challenge you. It works just fine as mellow background music and it won't distract you from a task or even your thoughts. It's like the pop equivalent of a Mozart Divertimento. The singles are well-worn but I find myself responding well to some of the deeper cuts, especially "Beloved Wife," "I May Know the Word," and the album opener "San Andreas Fault."
"San Andreas Fault" starts precisely the way you would expect from an artist like Merchant, with the spotlight aimed directly on her voice. The breezy arrangement is sparse and, structurally, there are just four chords to consider. The track begins with a pair of chords that give the impression of a folksy church-in-the-woods kind of gospel: subdominant (IV) proceeding to tonic (I), suggesting a plagal cadence (think "Amen" at the end of a hymn). However, the minor chords that follow (ii-vi) hint there may be darkness looming around the corner. The lyric reflects this sentiment, presenting California as the promised land but reminding us that the ground beneath our feet may betray us at any moment.