Track of the Week: “Wonder,” by Natalie Merchant

Track of the WeekIf you asked most people what they know about Natalie Merchant’s hit song “Wonder” from Tigerlily, released in 1995, I bet few would mention the guitar. Most would talk about how Natalie Merchant’s voice is unforgettable and the lyrics are amazing. My ear, however, is finely tuned to pick up the guitar’s broadcast. When it hears great guitar playing, my ear dials it in. Listen past Merchant’s beautiful voice and you’ll hear it too: wonderfully executed lead guitar work.

What’s nice is that the guitar never feels overplayed, yet the guitarist is very active. Combining single-note runs with chordal licks, the guitarist enhances the song without getting in Merchant’s way. Let’s face it, she’s the star of the show. Her mug is on the cover for goodness sake. That doesn’t mean that the guitarist should play a trivial role when asked to backup a star vocalist. It means that the guitarist has to play dynamically. He should play softly when the vocalist is singing and ramp it up when she’s not. In this case, guitarist creates a sturdy harmonic backdrop on which Merchant can lay her melody. Sometimes that’s your job as a guitarist and that’s what happens in “Wonder.”

Oddly enough, I can’t tell who is playing the lead guitar part in this song. Based on Tigerlily’s wikipedia page, there were several guest guitarists involved in making the album. My bet would be that Eric Schenkman from the Spin Doctors played the electric guitar on “Wonder.” Schenkman has a very similar style to the one demonstrated in “Wonder.” Just listen to “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and you’ll hear the guitar-riffage similarities.

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3 responses to “Track of the Week: “Wonder,” by Natalie Merchant

  1. Yes, “Wonder” is a wonder. Thank you for saying so. The guitar playing is perfectly suited to the rest of the piece. You couldn’t add or subtract a note without doing harm. But I’ve always had the idea that Jennifer Turner is the guitarist in question. Whoever it is did a magnificent job.

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