Release Date: Jan 27, 2015
Record label: Sony
Matthew E White’s album Big Inner may have been a critical smash in 2013, but its success looked like it might come at a cost for Natalie Prass. This self-titled debut was recorded in 2012 yet remained on the back burner while White’s Spacebomb label was forced to focus on promoting his own record. With the Virginia label – which also operates as a studio with house band – now giving Prass their full backing, however, she may concede that it was worth waiting: the 28-year-old’s country-soul songs are frequently spellbinding, but each one is given a further lift by the Spacebomb team’s arrangements.
There are a million and one songs about heartbreak in existence and while it is a universal, go-to theme, most of the results can often fall flat and generic. At its best, music devoted to the broken-hearted is simultaneously unique to its creator and relatable to listeners, a smattering of raw emotions that can be reconstructed to our likings. We may all have our ideal records of such already, but Natalie Prass is ready to deliver a new classic.
Natalie Prass spent most of 2014 as a touring keyboardist and backing vocalist in Jenny Lewis’ touring band, but now unleashes an album in her own right, made with Matthew E White’s Spacebomb label and production house. Spacebomb is clearly intended as something of a low-budget equivalent of Stax/Volt – a label with its own studio and a house band of highly skilled musicians able to bring vivid, vibrant arrangements to life. Although little is known so far of Prass’ influences or preoccupations as a singer-songwriter, this debut feels like a slightly premature take on the Dusty in Memphis template – a singer exploring different sound worlds through the aid of a team that is not just proficient, but also soulful and with a strong musical ‘feel’.
The last few years have been an exercise in patience and perseverance for Natalie Prass. The Nashville/Richmond singer-songwriter has spent them working in a supporting role, waiting to finally take the spotlight. In 2012, she completed her self-titled debut album but had to shelve it due to the popularity of Matthew E. White’s excellent LP Big Inner, which more than tied up his label, Spacebomb Records.
When Bjork recently spoke about the tendency to credit men with the genius of a woman’s art, she could have been looking straight at critics about to write about the fantastic debut album from Natalie Prass. Over nine songs, Prass shows a range in songwriting, from anthems to confident R&B burners to whimsical prairie folk to theatrical grandeur. It is the debut of a songwriter not struggling to find a voice, but fully formed and confident as all hell.
Natalie Prass is not history ripped from a black-and-white photo, but a real, living person. She crafts slow-burning soul music indebted to singers like Dolly Parton, Dusty Springfield, and Jenny Lewis (with whom she toured as a backing vocalist), and she makes her home in Nashville, where she settled after stints in Cleveland, Virginia Beach, and Boston’s Berklee College of Music. (She dropped out after only a year because she thought the city was too big.) In Richmond, Va., she found her people at Spacebomb Records, the label run by retro revivalist and high school friend Matthew E.
If the Oscar winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom taught us anything, it’s that talent is not always recognized even, perhaps especially, when it’s just outside of the spotlight. Occasionally a Darlene Love, Sheryl Crow or Luther Vandross will make a successful transition from backing singer to front person, but the chances are pretty slim. Natalie Prass, a supporting musician for Jenny Lewis, makes that move on her first solo album and the results should ensure she will never return to hired hand again.
Carole King. Dionne Warwick. Diana Ross. Jenny Lewis. Yes, these are only a small handful of the comparisons that Natalie Prass has garnered through numerous publications, magazines, and blogs. Prass’s self-titled debut has a nostalgic feeling of being lived-in — as if it had laid forgotten on ….
Based in Nashville and a veteran of Jenny Lewis' touring band, Natalie Prass certainly has her share of Americana roots, something that's evident on her eponymous 2015 debut. It's a bit too easy to make too much of those Southern-fried roots, however, a move that would suggest the album is steeped in the humid reaches of the Delta and that Prass possesses a bit of a husky growl in her voice, neither of which is true. At times, Natalie Prass does indeed proceed at a slow, sultry crawl that suggests such earlier blue-eyed soul masterpieces as Dusty in Memphis, but Prass is a pretty, delicate singer whose exacting phrasing pushes her album toward the West Coast in a manner not dissimilar to Jenny Lewis.
Where the hell has Natalie Prass been hiding all this time? The singer/songwriter might best be known as a member of Jenny Lewis' backing band during her most recent tour; with the release of her long-gestating debut album on January 27, this will definitely change. Natalie Prass marks a solid entrance from an assured new talent; it's an absolutely lovely soul record, shot through with the wistfulness of heartbreak country.Stylistically, the album is an interesting, yet comfortably familiar creation. The album is more or less defined by its glittering patina of soul, with Prass' delicate voice anchored by Spacebomb's solid crew of studio players.
You imagine psychotherapists probably get heartily sick of heartache – all those infidelities, those ugly power dynamics; the break-ups and the breakdowns that go with the counselling territory. Music fans could well feel the same way. There’s a lot of heartache about. If you could picture emotional baggage in pop, it would resemble some Heathrow luggage handlers’ strike-style mountain of love-gone-wrong songs – a peak only equalled in height and heft, perhaps, by the songs in which fools are falling in love.
Even if it would be easiest to classify Natalie Prass’ first album as a self-titled singer-songwriter debut, the title and what it implies turn out to be somewhat misleading. That’s because Natalie Prass doesn’t really bring to mind anything you readily associate with any of those terms: Made up of grandiose soundscapes that are lushly rendered with string and horn arrangements courtesy of Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb production outfit, Natalie Prass hardly comes off like a work that would or should be credited under a single individual’s name.
‘“Holing up in studios” is the new “holing up in cabins”’ declares Grantland’s Steven Hyden in a recent article contemplating the state of the singer-songwriter in 2015. It’s a reductive quote, for sure, but one that makes sense in the context of the piece. It makes even more sense in terms of Matthew E. White and his Spacebomb collective, a Motown and Stax-inspired studio, house band and record label based in Richmond, Virginia that garnered huge acclaim by way of White’s stunning, gospel-infused solo debut Big Inner a few years ago.
It’s the clarity in the way Natalie Prass sings about fears, insecurity and heartbreak that’s one of the most startling things about her debut album. To have that confidence and assurance on her first collection of songs is quite an achievement; Prass’s vision is clear – yes, I’m broken and I’m down but I know I’m going to get through it. Prass is 28 and Nashville-based, but must be the only musician in the city who doesn’t write country music.
Here you'll find reviews of four much-discussed albums released in January that, forsomereason or another, we couldn't get to in time. Natalie PrassNatalie Prass Natalie Prass (or, your fool, as she mostly refers to herself on her stunning debut) is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. She began her career as a back-up singer for Jenny Lewis. Spacebomb’s Matthew E.
The nine songs of Natalie Prass’ eponymous debut LP feature elaborate tapestries of full orchestration, and the Nashville-based songwriter occupies more than just their centers; each composes a giant headshot of her striking a different expression. Prass—a close affiliate of Jenny Lewis, The Gaslight Anthem, and Matthew E. White (the album’s producer)—has played big supporting roles for years, and now she’s given her first solo exhibition the full diva treatment.
It's rare to come across a debut that sounds at once classic and fresh, a balance Virginia-bred, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Natalie Prass pulls off gracefully on her self-titled album, a soul-spun take on traditional Americana. Recorded in 2012, the release is only seeing the light of day now due to the unexpected early success of Virginia label/studio Spacebomb, who lend their lush production style to Prass's slow-burn countrified torch songs. Both Emmylou Harris's twang and Jenny Lewis's charisma (Prass recently toured as a backup singer and keyboardist for Lewis) find a home in her honey-sweet vocals, which push well-worn heartsick lyrical tropes beyond mere cliché, as on lead track My Baby Don't Understand Me.