Archive for the ‘Natalie Duncan’ Category

I’m not sure when I first heard Natalie Duncan, though I know it came about from a review of her 2012 debut album, Devil in Me, that appeared in either Mojo or Uncut that July – which means it was likely sometime in August. For good and ill, those British magazines were the primary vessels of my music discovery at the time, but they always arrived in U.S. bookstores a month late due to the vagaries of the shipping process. Those were the days, I should explain, when Diane and I routinely took up residence in the cafe section of our local Barnes & Noble bookstore for most of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, she reading a book in full over the course of a few weeks and I, when not doing the same, paging through magazines while downing a succession of high-octane coffee drinks.

At any rate, Devil in Me became an instant favorite. At their best, the songs conjure the ghosts of popular music past while remaining firmly rooted in the present; her evocative lyrics and intricate melodies paint scenes that resonate deep within the soul. At worst, some songs – while strong – sound overproduced to my ears; and the album, which clocks in at over an hour, is just too long. (That’s a common complaint I have with most CD-age albums, actually. More is not always better.)

That said, YouTube holds more proof of her prodigious talent, including renditions of some Devil in Me songs that gain strength by stripping off their veneers. “Uncomfortable Silence” is a good example; although it’s powerful on album, this rendition – just Natalie at the piano – is spellbinding.

Speaking of spellbinding, here she is performing three songs in early ’12 at the Real World Studios – Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel,” “Sky Is Falling” and the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”; the latter sends shivers up my spine every time I play it.

Unfortunately, despite much positive press, popular success didn’t follow and she eventually parted ways with her record label, Verve. In 2015, however, she released the electronica-tinged Black & White EP, which is well worth many listens. The title track is a hypnotic trance set to song, just about…

…and that same year she released the minimalistic single “Lies,” another sterling track. This video captures her performing it at London’s Wet Fish Cafe:

Flash forward five years and Natalie has a new album in the offing, Free, which is slated for release at the end of July on DJ Goldie’s new label, Fallen Tree 1Hundred. Of the lead single, “Sirens,” she says in the release on Bandcamp, “I initially wrote the piano and I whistled the vocals because I wasn’t able to talk at the time. It was a very frustrating writing process, but it was so euphoric the first time I was able to sing the chorus line ‘Can you make me fly’ — it felt like my voice was finally free and flying again.”

 

In a better world, Natalie Duncan would already be at the top of the charts. When I first heard Devil in Me in 2012, my assumption was that her soulful sound would soon top the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. Although that’s yet to happen, I still believe it. Her talent is too large for it not to be syncopating through the sonic landscape that is popular music.

Anyway, I’ll close with this cool cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” Although she’s considered a “neo-soul” artist, as the performance demonstrates, hers is an old soul. (When she shared it on her Facebook page a few months back, she wrote, “I can’t get over how Stevie Wonder never stops inspiring me. I heard a quote from Herbie Hancock yesterday – ‘Stevie Wonder is an example of the best a human can be’. Big tings.”)

As I said over the weekend, there is so much good new music in the world that it can be hard to keep up – especially since finding said sounds means channeling one’s inner- Jim Rockford. Even so-called “good” radio stations (more on that in the coming weeks) do a lousy job of spotlighting new discoveries – unless it’s the latest generic alterna-rock band, that is.

To that end, here’s a collection of YouTube clips that shouldn’t be missed…

1) The Staves – “Blues Run the Game.” So the Staves played a forest the other day…

2) First Aid Kit – “Fireworks.” And FAK premiered a new song just in time for July 4th.

3) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Sea Town.” CMA, meanwhile, shared this clip that was filmed near the Boot & Saddle in South Philly last month. While I was searching for a parking spot before that show, I drove past her shooting this. I should’ve honked!

4) Natalie Duncan – “Get Right.” Here’s a relatively new song from one of my favorite voices of the past decade…

5) Karrie – “Performers.” And, finally, here’s a stunning track from Karrie that she didn’t include on her wonderful 2016 album Perpetual Motion. (More from Ms. O’Sullivan this weekend.)

And three bonuses…

6) Erin O’Dowd – “Jump the Gun Song.” Another of my favorite new voices.

7) Diane Birch – “Nothing Compares 2 U” & “When Doves Cry.” Here’s the Church of Birch pastor’s lovely tribute to Prince (from a February show in Berlin):

8) Paul Weller – “Soundtrack of My Life.” The Modfather reflects on songs that shaped his life in this NME video. Why do I feel old looking at him?

I spent a large chunk of yesterday moving and organizing music files. The external hard drive I’d been using is 15 gigs short of its one-terabyte capacity, so I had little choice but to commandeer one of my other external hard drives and turn it into a Pono-exclusive drive.

The primary space culprit: my original music library. It contains the 4000+ CDs I ripped as 256kbps and 320kbps back in 2007, plus the hundred or so I ripped as 320kbps between 2007 and 2010, and everything added in the years since, which, with the exception of occasional iTunes or Amazon downloads, are space-hogging Apple Lossless files. There’s more on the HD than music, of course – I’m a well-rounded entertainment junkie: Battlestar Galactica, Fringe and Pretty Little Liars downloads, plus various one-offs. There are also a few Super 8 home movies that I had converted to digital several years back.

Anyway, by rights, running out of room shouldn’t have occurred for a few months, if not longer. I don’t buy new music at the rate that I once did, and re-purchasing re-issues of albums I’ve bought before is something I rarely do, nowadays. That said, since receiving my Pono Player in November, I have acquired some humongous-sized high-res versions of a few favorite albums and downloaded several high-res Bruce Springsteen concerts from his website. (The 24-bit/192kHz 1978 Cleveland show clocks in at 7.8 gigs!) I’ve also re-ripped as FLAC 250+ CDs that I originally encoded as MP3s. One external HD devoted to Pono Music makes sense – not just for high-resolution music, but the CD re-rips.

That’s an admittedly long-winded way to say that much of yesterday was devoted to the boring, mundane stuff that makes up the modern, digital life. Yet, I made the most of it, putting my Pono Player on shuffle and enjoying the tunes. One of the many songs I heard was Rumer’s rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “Flyin’ Shoes” from her 2012 Boys Don’t Cry album.

I’ve written about the album before, so I won’t rehash what I said, but perhaps this will place it into context: It’s one of the few non-Neil Young albums that I’ve re-purchased in high-res form (in this case, 24-bit/88.2kHz). She’s often compared to Karen Carpenter and, tonally speaking, the similarities are indeed striking, but the singer she most reminds me of is Dusty Springfield, who caressed and phrased lyrics in such a way that songs transcended into private, albeit one-sided (and very melodic) conversations.

The other song that leapt out: Natalie Duncan’s “The Sky Is Falling” from her 2012 Devil in Me CD. One of the things that I’ve discovered with my Pono Player is that CD-quality stuff simply sounds amazing on it – better than my iPhone, and I’ve always thought ALAC rips sounded good on it. Such is the case with this song. Listening to the same ALAC file via the Pono is akin to sitting beside her on the piano bench instead of, say, halfway across the room.

And, as long as I’ve mentioned Ms. Duncan, here’s another glimmer of her future greatness – her rendition of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

In any event, the leap from MP3 to CD-quality is far greater than the leap from CD-quality to high-res, though some high-res music – like Boys Don’t Cry or Dusty in Memphis – does sounds remarkable. It’s one of the things the few reviews of the Pono Player that I’ve read have missed – they concentrate on the form factor, the high prices attached to some (not all) high-resolution downloads, and the claims that people can’t hear all the sonics contained in 24-bit/192kHz music files. That last point may or may not be true; I’ve read conflicting arguments. However, there’s no denying that a simple 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD rip sounds better on the Pono.

At the end of the day, though – and this ties in with leading a modern, digital life – in and of itself, pristine sound quality means nothing, just as 4K television means nothing. Sometimes we – and, yes, I likely mean “me” when I say that – get so caught up in the technical promise of things that we forget the most important part of the equation: the music, movie or TV show. There was a time in my life when I obsessed over scratchy 45 singles, after all, and when I regularly watched – and enjoyed – TV shows on a small black-and-white TV.

A great song or performance is great regardless of the delivery system; it transcends the device used to play it. Such is the case with Boys Don’t Cry and Natalie Duncan’s “The Sky Is Falling.” Regardless of what you play music on, seek both out. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a thought derived from this morning’s headlines, which speak of violence in America’s streets and the Middle East.

We have been here before.

I’ve made this point in past posts (I’m something of a one-trick pony): Just as Paul Simon sings in “The Boy in the Bubble” that “every generation sends a hero up the pop charts,” every generation experiences its share of discontent, unrest, upheavals, partisan bickering and/or war. The main difference: Our collective memory has become as short as our collective attention span – no doubt due to the History Channel’s shift away from documentaries and to “reality” programming. (Yes, that last part’s a joke.)

I’ll sidestep the political stuff simply because, well, it gets tiresome (few – on either side of the divide – ever change their mind from a reasoned argument or the facts, but instead dig in their heels), and instead focus on the primary subject of this blog: music.

The claim is often made, generally by middle- and older-aged folks (but even sometimes by the young), that there’s no good music being created. Everything is manufactured, soulless, awful. Examples are generally whoever is at the top of the charts – Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Jay Z, etc. That the same has been said time and again throughout pop-culture history, usually by the old guard about the new, is lost on them. The pop confections of the past are always tastier than those of the present for a myriad of reasons. Chief among them: nostalgia.

Now, as anyone who knows me can confirm, I listen to my fair share of yesteryear favorites. I carry large parts of Paul McCartney’s and Neil Young’s catalogs everywhere I go on my 64-gig iPhone. I crank up Bruce, the Kinks, Who and Runaways, groove to Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Gladys Knight, and blast the Beatles, Bangles and Go-Go’s, almost always singing along if I’m driving alone. And I can’t imagine life without the Long Ryders, Lone Justice, Opal and Three O’Clock, whose songs take me back to my college days in the ‘80s. Nanci Griffith, another longtime favorite, conjures the first time I met my wife, Diane.

But I don’t restrict myself to the tried-and-true. Nor should you. There’s always good music being made – it just doesn’t always make the mainstream press or restrictive radio playlists. (I’ve written before how I find new music; it requires effort, but is well worth the work.)

So, without further adieu, here are a few relatively new acts who, I think, appeal beyond the generational divide. Each is relatively young and still in the process of becoming. And while they mine slightly different terrains, they’re all singer-songwriters.

Diane Birch is someone who, thanks to the vagaries of today’s pop culture, has only achieved minor success, yet is a major talent. She conjures Carole King, Laura Nyro and Stevie Nicks, among others, while staying true to herself.

Melody Gardot has achieved acclaim within the jazz world, though in bygone eras she would’ve topped the mainstream pop charts. She’s bewitching.

Rumer, at least in these pages, needs no introduction.

Natalie Duncan is a wondrous, still developing soul singer from Britain. Five years from now I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a No. 1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Even First Aid Kit, whose Stay Gold album is a strong candidate for my Album of the Year, essentially hails from the singer-songwriter genre (and Sweden).

And Jessie Baylin, like First Aid Kit, also comes from the Americana camp. As Diane reminded me, her Little Spark was one of the best albums of 2012.

The one thing that’s missing: rock music. That’s more a matter of my current mindset than anything, however. I do rock out, but more often to such old-school acts like Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. (I’m a big fan of the ampersand.) That said, I’m told Gaslight Anthem and the Everymen are great. And Ida Maria reminds me, in a good way, of the Runaways –