Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Surprising Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass is full of surprises. For example, did you know that she's all about that bass? She happily owned up to the body-moving mix that played her on stage at a sold out Bowery Ballroom this past Monday. It included such club classics as the 12" version of The Men All Pause by Klymaxx and Slowes' Comb by Digable Planets - songs you might not have heard in Nashville, where she spent almost a decade before moving back to Richmond, VA, to make her instant-classic debut album

Then there were the bananas. She placed four of them on her amp before greeting the crowd. Since this show was rescheduled from May due to illness, my first thought was potassium deficiency. But no, she's just a lovable eccentric who wanted to share her band's "night nanners" tradition with the audience. Which she did, tossing the fruits into the eagerly outstretched hands of her fans. And yes - by then she had everyone eating out of her hands, whether or not you caught a banana.

While the album, lushly produced by Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard, clearly displays a gifted singer, her talent was even more apparent in concert. Although her natural instrument is a little bit flighty, her control over every sound and - even more importantly - every rhythmic inflection is simply remarkable. She played with phrasing like a jazz chanteuse, finding new hooks in songs I've played to death, all the while producing the beautiful tones exactly as you hear on the record. 

Natalie & Trey
Trey Pollard is also the guitarist in her road band, pulling out shades of Les Paul or Steve Cropper as the situation demanded. He was a great foil for Prass who - surprise, surprise - is also a great performer. She moves to enact each song, either locking into the beat or finding a little bit of theater to emphasize a point, without ever seeming studied. She smiles a lot, talks to the audience and seems to like to improvise a bit. Don't be surprised if there's a charming song called New York City on her next album, she so loved singing the name of our fair metropolis. 

Her sophomore release seems in good hands either way, as she played three or four new songs that all sounded good. But it was in the indelible songs she's already recorded that she and the band really shone. Bird Of Prey, My Baby Don't Understand Me, Christy, etc. -these are all bulletproof songs, testaments to the power of her medium to put a structure to emotion and narrative and then pull us through that creation with irresistible threads of melody, harmony and groove.

My brief time in Nashville last year proved that beyond the rhinestones there is a serious and supportive community of songwriters there, from which Prass clearly benefited. But she's on another plane entirely now and well on her way to a brilliant career. She'll be at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on November 10th and I highly recommend you get your tickets in advance

The opening act was Wilder Maker, a quintet from Brooklyn who had a few surprises of their own, such as a two drummer set up that added loads of texture and excitement. While not every song was my cup of tea, they felt fully formed and bandleader Gabriel Birnbaum is extremely comfortable as a frontman. He's also put in a good portion of his 10,000 hours with his guitar, finger-picking or playing bold chords with ease. His baritone blended nicely with the more dulcet tones of Katie Von Schleicher, who also played keyboard. Based on the way they won over the crowd, which grew steadily throughout their set, I doubt Wilder Mind will be just an opening band for long. 

You might also like:
Matthew E. White: Seeking Transcendence
No Longer A Big Inner
Catching Up With 2015

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