At the center of Natalie Bergman‘s ethereal debut album Mercy is a tragedy so profound and crushing, that the sheer colossal beauty of the record’s lilting soundscapes might appear a strange oxymoron. Well known for her work with her band Wild Belle — underneath every lush, layered blend of breezy gospel-soul and bedroom pop that Bergman weaves to soundtrack her spiritual catharsis, there is an echo of the tragedy that catalyzed the important revelations on Mercy. On the tender prayer “Home at Last,” Bergman recounts the head-on collision with a drunk driver that killed her father and step-mother, an event that forced Bergman to a monastery in the southwestern desert where, in the quiet solitude like the monastics of old, she found some clarity and peace. “Went to the wilderness to remember my name,” she summarizes on “Paint the Rain,” a sublime ditty of glowing guitars and clarion piano tumbles that bounce along to Bergman’s steady realization — in the midst of grief — of the overwhelming love she and the world still has left to offer.
Mercy opens with a gentle invitation by Bergman and her gutting trill to begin healing similar to what she underwent — and it starts, like the heart-wrenching harmonies of “Talk to the Lord” make plain, with us reaching out for help. “Though I have seen so many sorrows I shall not be moved,” Bergman murmurs, answering the vulnerable state her personal tragedy has left her soul in with an insurmountable faith — not just faith in a higher power, but faith in the eternal power of love. On songs like the dreamy vintage swayer “Shine Your Light on Me” and folk-pop “I Will Praise You,” Bergman remains steadfast in her faith, her beaming prayers a brilliant attempt at perseverance in the face of such strife. While on ballads like “You Make My World Go Round” and “Your Love is My Shelter,” Bergman once again finds solace not just in the love of her God but the love left to be found in the people around her — and in the memories of those long departed.
Mercy is not just praises and hope. Bergman is raw in expressing the darker moments of her grief and “Your Love is My Shelter” is full of such desperate loss that comes with losing so inextricable to your heart. “Death has touched me once again,” Bergman wails on “The Gallows” a morose ballad that serves as a reminder of the inevitability of death’s arrival, a song all too prescient for those who’ve lost a loved one so suddenly and unexpectedly in the last year. But even through the fog of her sorrows Bergman holds onto what light she can find and kindle, moving through the tragedy towards the kind of salvation that transcends what we might consider spiritual or secular. Bergman finds her salvation in the unconditional love of Jesus and her lost father and step-mother (whom she offers an anguished but beatific memorial in “Sweet Mary”) because they are the source of her strength and rejuvenation.
Mercy paints a remarkably honest and eviscerating portrait of the kind of resilience needed to ward off the existential vacuum that the loss of a loved one can have on your soul. Whether you might consider yourself religious or not, Bergman’s rapturous collection is a heartfelt and sagacious attempt to transcend tragedy and loss — to fill the pit that forms with the one force powerful enough to do so: love.
Listen to Natalie Bergman’s new album Mercy below!