10,000 Maniacs: The Wishing Chair (1985)
But Wishing Chair, their major label debut (some earlier indie recordings were later compiled as Hope Chest) was a banger. Natalie Merchant's distinctive vocal stylings are obviously the main attraction, a fitting complement to Michael Stipe and the (mostly) guy-oriented bands (at least the Reivers had both male and female vocalists). But the guitar sound is as great as anything found on peer releases from R.E.M., Love Tractor and the rest, and there's some stellar songwriting to be found.
Opener "Can't Ignore The Train" is a memorable little mid-tempo pop tune, still sounding great today; "Scorpio Rising" is even better, an energetic, rousing rocker, probably my favorite of anything the band ever did. Most of what follows remains firmly in mellower "Train" territory, but a few tunes stand out for me, like the particularly catchy "Grey Victory," the tribal dance of "Daktari" (kinda foreshadowing Vampire Weekend), and particularly the fizzy "My Mother The War," which has an edgier post-punk sound than most of the record.
I can't say I'm familiar with Merchant's solo work, or the albums the rest of the band released after her departure, but the band's records with Merchant warrant more attention than I've given them, and this one in particular brings me back to a time when it fell totally in my sweet spot.
Here's the video for "Scorpio Rising":