The product of a sleepy industrial town perched in New York State's western corner, 10,000 Maniacs were an unlikely commercial breakthrough. But break through they did in the late '80s with their second album of ebullient folk-pop, In My Tribe
. The Maniacs married chiming melodies to topical themes given voice by the alluring Natalie Merchant
. Aptly described by its subtitle, this 31-song survey assembles the group's biggest hits alongside a tasteful selection of rarities and cover versions. In keeping with Merchant's pointed pen, the former group includes thoughtful ruminations on child abuse ("What's the Matter Here?") and the poetry of everyday life ("These Are Days") as well as a stirring live rendition of the impassioned Bruce SpringsteenPatti Smith song "Because the Night." Fans will delight in early tracks such as "My Mother the War," which reinforces the Maniacs' initial left-of-the-dial status, which placed them in sonic company with then contemporaries such as R.E.M. and the Cure. An added bonus is Merchant and company's simmering version of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" -- which was removed from later versions of In My Tribe
as a protest against the singer-songwriter's support of a fatwah against author Salman Rushdie. The many other cover versions that fill the set's second disc attest to the band's broad-ranging influences, from a tear-stained take on Tom Waits's "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You" (a rare single) to a folksy version of Iris DeMent's gorgeous "Let the Mystery Be" (from MTV's Rock N' Roll Inaugural Ball), a duet with David Byrne
. With rich rewards for both casual and maniacal fans, Campfire Songs
offers a thumbnail portrait of a fascinating and influential band, with enough extras to warrant a closer look.