Stroll up to that jewelry store shimmering on a hot Virginia night, under the neon “Spacebomb” sign and take a look at the latest gem–glowing, sparkling, radiant with light. Natalie Prass is the sound of an artist and community working together, replete with lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry, soaked with the same sweet perspiration and small-town spirit that ran through Memphis, New Orleans and Muscle Shoals. It is both an utterly timeless and perfectly timed affair. Using the experience from producing Matthew E. White’s Big Inner, Spacebomb joined forces with a true kindred spirit–Nashville singer and songwriter Natalie Prass–to travel deeper into its universe of sound. The sheer quality of her voice and songs gave collaborators the freedom to push their craft to the limit: Trey Pollard’s gorgeous, technicolor strings rising from the coastal plain; White’s muscular R&B horn signatures driving and complicating the dance; everything locked down to the rhythm section of Cameron Ralston and Pinson Chanselle riding a supernatural groove. Natalie Prass is a thoughtful collection of music, nourished by reverence for past eras of big band and jazz and infused with the crisp detail of late 70s & early 80s R&B, a diamond for everyone, a sophisticated soul-pop triumph.
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“Bird of Prey” kicks it off with that silky and propulsive beat. Prass delivers the goods, balancing an infectious hook and calmly observed feelings as flutes dive and weave between muted horns, a rolling tack piano courtesy of Daniel Clarke (k.d. lang, Ryan Adams) underpinning the beat. This track makes a confident assertion that southern soul is not gone or lost, or confined to retro gestures. Funky horns, gutsy guitar lines and murmuring flutes in “Why Don’t You Believe In Me” connect with the song’s wry internal monologue, sine wave needles of feedback penetrating the mix in counterpoint to an overall controlled elegance. “Violently” riffs off expectations for gentle ballads with its raw take on the intensity of desire. Vocally inspired by Diana Ross, conveying both softness and strength–a litheness and brightness, Prass has the ability to express the full spectrum of emotion and drift further into shades unknown. During “My Baby Don’t Understand Me,” she sings of the world crumbling while horns sashay into fanfare, the arrangement getting impossibly big but never losing the groove, staying balanced, dropping down to a piano lick, then returning with force–with power. As a songwriter, Prass has that rare ability to compose in her own distinct voice and still sound immediately classic.
The graceful “It Is You” closes out the album in style, the spirit of Harry Nilsson strolling in a sentimental mood through colorful fields of sound. Pollard distills his strings to their highest proof: intoxicating, sweet and lush, then fading down to a perfect sigh of dissonance. Natalie Prass consistently achieves those moments of “shared recognition,” when certain elements, a nuance of arrangement or the emotional weight of a lyric, unite to create astonishing richness and depth. This artist and this record reach Spacebomb’s vision of intensely personal, well-crafted regional music, a new music that has global reach and appeal. It wouldn’t sound the same coming from anywhere else, New York, Chicago, L.A. or even Philly; the pace is unique–pure central Virginia time, bound up in the tight harmony of community, its energy captured and released in the vibrant, effortless sound of Natalie Prass.