While the intelligence of former 10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant has never been in doubt, her solo records up to now have been disappointingly insipid affairs. Thankfully, Motherland is by far her strongest effort to date, a devastatingly powerful piece of social commentary that makes 90% of all other pop records sound juvenile by comparison. Never ashamed to wear her political consciousness on her sleeve, Merchant uses her music to turn a critical eye on contemporary America - and doesn't much like what she sees. The result is a collection of songs about racial tension and gun control, with delicately restrained vocals and tasteful acoustic arrangements. A subtle, strikingly original album that deserves to be widely heard.