IN JANUARY 2013 Big Inner, an album of blue eyed soul, Memphis horns, funk, and Christianity by singer-songwriter Matthew E White caused a considerable stir. Now he returns to give his schoolfriend Natalie Prass her start, with this, her debut album.
White’s influence is apparent from the off. Opening track ‘My Baby Don’t Understand Me’ couches Natalie’s vulnerable, baby-doll, voice in restrained strings and piano, but, like White’s songs, there is a subtle build throughout, leading to a coda, where Prass repeats “Our love is a long goodbye” over a riffing horn section, giving the song emotional and musical muscle.
The approach works well here but fails noticeably on the otherwise delightfully sprightly pop-soul of ‘Bird Of Prey’ and the turgid ‘Violently’. The codas here are self-indulgent, as if all involved had no idea of how to satisfactorily resolve the song. Better testament to Prass’s talent is heard on ‘Why Don’t You Believe In Me’, where the three-chord descending motif at the end of the chorus, which contrasts with the laid-back soul of the verses, comes on like an inspired moment.
Natalie Prass is primarily an album of Southern blue eyed soul with a faint country tinge - ‘Never Over You’ could easily be re-arranged for pedal steel and a country’n’western voice - however its most arresting numbers tend towards the 1940s/50s orchestral pop and chanson tradition.
‘Christy’ is a dark, jealous, tale of two women sharing one man: “She can take the hand of anyone she meets/still the one she wants belongs to me.” The twistedness of the relationship conveyed all the more convincingly because of the innocent, child-like quality of Prass’s voice and the magnificent string-quartet arrangement, but delicate and sinister.
Closing track ‘It Is You’ is the most surprising. Faintly recalling Sinatra’s ‘Young At Heart’, it provides an optimistic conclusion to an album primarily concerned with relationships in troubled waters. The sweetness of Prass’s voice and the lushness of the waltzing orchestral arrangement make such lines as “I have learned there is a key and that only one will do, it is you” utterly convincing. Indeed it is hard not to think of Fred and Ginger coming out to dance and the credits roll on a Hollywood musical from 70 years ago, as the song comes to a close.
Though in places uneven, Natalie Prass has enough to convince that here is a new singer of note with plenty of potentially rewarding muscial paths to explore.