Natalie Prass review – pristine heartbreak tales

The Lexington, London
The Nashville singer-songwriter proved her mettle as a great country balladeer – and plenty of other things besides

During a momentary delay between songs, Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Prass looks to the audience and, with a genial awkwardness, says: “I feel like I should tell a story or something.” In truth, she’s been telling stories all night. Like any great country balladeer – which is exactly what she is sometimes, though she’s a great many other things besides – Prass brims with tales of heartbreak and disconnection.

Her songs are tender but perspicacious, nailing the feeling of heartbreak simply but exactly, without any self-pity. One of her best, My Baby Don’t Understand Me, is as moving an anatomy of a breakup as Abba’s The Winner Takes It All, with a chilly, truthful bite to lines like “What do you do/ When the only home you know is with a stranger?” She performs the first verse tonight accompanied only by electric piano; her voice, milky and mellifluous, suggests Dolly Parton at her most vulnerable, even Karen Carpenter: easy, but with an edge. Were she wailing or rending garments, My Baby… wouldn’t move like it does, but her pristine tones sharpen the melancholy, Prass losing herself in the sweetness of the ascending chorus, even as the words, “Our love is a long goodbye”, spell her downfall.

Elsewhere, a soulful mood pervades – no surprise considering Prass is part of the Spacebomb collective, led by soul auteur Matthew E White, producer of her self-titled debut album. Your Fool might miss the horns and strings of the studio version, but her three-piece band easily conjure its Nashville-via-Memphis glide, while, shorn of its widescreen production, Why Don’t You Believe in Me smoulders like Dusty’s Son of a Preacher Man, possessing the limber, gutbucket groove of The Band. A cover of Janet Jackson’s carnal Any Time, Any Place, meanwhile, is prefaced with a warning that things are “about to get real steamy and 90s”, turning the Jam & Lewis ballad into a sweltering slow jam.

From country and soul, to something else: a string section files on for Christy, which rescores Dolly’s Jolene as chamber music. As she plays out her role as the most unlucky point of the song’s doomed love triangle, Prass seems desolate, haunted, consumed by hopeless longing, the strings establishing a southern gothic spook. It’s an electric moment, one that underlines how essential the redemptive sweetness of her other songs is, honeying the heartache with great skill, until the pain becomes heady, sublime pop.


Stevie Chick

The GuardianTramp

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