Album Review: Natalie Prass—“Natalie Prass”

By James Li

In an interview with Pitchfork, Natalie Prass self-identified as a “late bloomer.” Given the long road to the release of the 28 year-old Nashville singer-songwriter’s self-titled debut, it’s easy to see why that might be. After studying songwriting at Berklee and Middle Tennessee State University, she joined Jenny Lewis’ backing band. Prass actually finished her own album in 2012, and she sent it to Spacebomb Records, a label run by her friend Matthew E. White. But the release of White’s own debut tied up the label that year, leading them to shelve Prass’ album.

Despite the delay, Prass and Spacebomb fit each other perfectly. Natalie Prass is not a typical singer-songwriter. She is an R&B singer, but her influences read like a list of names that would definitely start this party off right – Minnie Ripperton, Dionne Warwick, and Janet Jackson. And just as importantly, Spacebomb is not a typical indie label. Like Motown or Stax, Spacebomb has a house band consisting of more than twenty members, complete with a string and horn section and a choir.

This set-up means that Prass’ debut album is grander and more polished than most indie debuts. There are plenty of stabs of strings and horns to punctuate Prass’ words, but there is even more: there is a touch of gospel piano on “Never Over You,” slick electric guitar on “Why Don’t You Believe in Me,” and recited vocals on “Reprise.” The closing track, “Is It You,” is so fluttery and whimsical, like it was made for a Disney princess.

natalie-prass-sb006-cover-art-lo-res-1[1]

Album art for Natalie Prass

The best part of the album, though, is Prass’ voice. With such a huge backing band, I was worried that her voice would get swallowed by the arrangements, but it comes through clear as day. Prass’ voice is easy to listen to, but it is also unique. If you think about the best female singer-songwriters last year — Angel Olsen’s ghostly warble, Sharon Van Etten’s anguished howl, or Grouper’s hushed murmurs — then Prass’ voice is decidedly far away from any of those. It is delicate, weightless, and crystal-clear, but also entirely unique.

Despite her lush arrangements and pure voice, Prass’ debut is a break-up album. Song titles like “Your Fool” and “Never Over You” might tip off eager listeners. Prass addresses “Christy” to a temptress, her take on a song like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” On “Violently,” someone’s love is killing her, as she pleads “break my bones, ‘cause they all want you.”

For her debut, Prass had the opportunity to work with a huge backing band – basically, a chance to take her songs wherever they want. For the most part, she uses that opportunity to its fullest extent. If I had any criticism to make, it would be that I wish there were more songs like “Bird of Prey” or “Your Fool,” where she strips back a layer of instrumentation to show off her vocals and songwriting. In any case, though, she demonstrates on her debut that she is far from being a rookie, but rather a late bloomer who has found her own sound and grown into it. (Spacebomb)

Listen: “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”

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Comments
One Response to “Album Review: Natalie Prass—“Natalie Prass””
  1. JessHanes says:

    Between this and being listed as Pitchfork’s “Best New Track,” it’s clear that Natalie is gonna be around for a long time!! Am really loving this album and “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” is my new go to heartache jam! 😀

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