It’s been said by a man, wiser than I, ‘Perseverance, secret of all triumphs’. Natalie Prass’s 2015 self-titled debut album is certainly a triumph. Hailing from Nashville, there are strong country, soul and jazz tones run through the nine tales of troubled relationships, but conveyed through a sweet voice that seems to hover in mid-air.
Perseverance because the album was a long time in gestation. Prass wrote it some three years before it was eventually unleashed and in the intervening period was sat waiting for her record to work its way to the top of her label, Matthew E White’s Spacebomb’s, small stable of artists to gain a release date. The time wasn’t wasted as Prass honed her talents providing backing vocals for the likes of Jenny Lewis.
When her album was eventually released it made such an immediate critical impact that she secured the supporting role on Ryan Adams’ recent tour, as well as spending the past summer in various festival slots before hitting her own headlining dates.
The beauty of the way Spacebomb go about recorded music is by using a collective of musicians in what is essentially a live music setting, albeit one built up through many layers and textures. There are literally dozens of musicians on the album, providing string and woodwind arrangements, funky basslines and sharp lead guitar. Being a work of immense depth, there was always going to be a degree of apprehension as to how that would be recreated on the small stage of the Brudnell Social Club.
The First thing Prass does is catch the audience completely off guard, the lights are lowered and she walks out to a deep, funky house tune, the strapline of which repeats ‘It’s time for the funky lady’. The room was expecting string arrangements, it got a dancing Prass and shaking walls.
The entrance set the scene for the rest of the gig. Some of the heartbreaking album tracks are of sadder times in her life, some date back to 2009, but it would appear that Prass is in a better place now and able to mix the inherent beauty of those tunes with an infectious sense of fun.
Starting straight into Your Fool, it was clear that the lack of strings and a woodwind section was more than compensated for with the tight and individually talented four piece band. Guitarist Trey Pollard arranged the orchestral side of the album so in their absence it was only fair that it fell upon him to give the songs a much edgier feel thoughout this set.
The ballad Christy gave Prass the opportunity to demonstrate her perhaps slightly limited vocal range but the notes she does use are done with a characteristic depth of feeling, perfectly crafted to the song and totally captivating.
Prass’s most accessible song is Bird of Prey, a funky bassline led song, belying her supposed country roots, the audience drawn to the band’s rhythm section that ensure the song (and they) bounce along when played live.
After a quick game of guitar tennis, the set continued through to new song Jass. In this Prass finds her inner PJ Harvey, hopefully providing a glimpse of a future album that will find her in a better frame of mind than her last, with big guitar rifts, frantic drums and Prass on her knees, turning up the volume.
The set highlight is however saved for the penultimate song. The recorded version of My Baby Don’t Understand Me, written at the height of Prass’s emotional turmoil – and indeed emailed to a now ex through tears which ended a relationship – it is mesmerising and personal, but takes on an entirely different dynamic live. It starts calm, collected yet still raw before building into a rockier, jazzier version, complete with a drum beat that builds the atmosphere before reaching a final crescendo.
Final song Why Don’t You Believe in Me closes a set which has been a whirlwind of emotion. The quality of the band and the arrangements meant that the more orchestral sound of the record wasn’t only not missed, but actually allowed the live version to become malleable, morphing into virtually new tracks, new emotions. The glimpse as to what may be in the offing on future records is compelling reason enough to follow what is surely going to be a continually burgeoning career.
If Natalie Prass’s future work does become something that has the funkiness of PJ Harvey mixed with the attitude of Chrissie Hynde, then Prass’s own lyrical strength and emotion, displayed so enticingly here, conveying a clearly new found positive outlook on life will mean the end result will be stellar. This set showed that bigger venues will follow. And they will be full. Of both people and heartfelt, emotional yet melodic and textured music that lifts the soul and the feet in equal measure.