The songs written for Motherland (the third solo album) were half personal and inward looking, half topical and outward facing. Four songs in particular (“This House is on Fire,” “Motherland,” “Saint Judas,” and “Golden Boy”) were deeply critical of contemporary culture and political structures in America. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center occurred just as the album was going to press and some themes of the album were considered prescient.
The album features string arrangements by Stephen Barber, the first of many Merchant-Barber collaborations on future projects. The album was mainly recorded in an Upstate New York sprawling summer retreat built for an early 20th century industrialist turned recording studio, Allaire where Natalie teamed-up with producer T. Bone Burnett and engineer Michael Piersante.