“I wanna say it loud. For all the ones held down. We gotta change the plan.” From communicating exclusively her woes to one person – her former partner Kyle Ryan Hurlbut in the form of a lush orchestral heartbreak album that captivated with its Disney-like romance and mesmerised in its delicate and fragile take on piano blues, country and other Americanized genres – to attempting to speak to a whole community of women and the oppressed with a confident soulful edge, Virginia-based musician Natalie Prass is going bold in style and lyrics with the follow-up to her self-titled album.
Inspired by a Chicago soul album from 1968 This Is My Country by The Impressions and the political releases from Stevie Wonder in the 1970s (you can hear Stevie’s trademark wobbly clavinet keyboard in ‘Never Too Late’ and‘Ain’t Nobody’), Natalie’s new release chapters her thoughts from the last three years. Most importantly documenting her shock reaction to Donald Trump’s victory in the American presidential elections – where an inexperienced male candidate beat a qualified female politician – and how it brought back injustice occurrences from her own past and made her question the future.
Opener ‘Oh My’ reflects her state of mind on 8th November 2016 when she scrapped the initial material for the second LP and expressed a different mentality after witnessing the US Election result. “I can’t believe the things I hear. What is truth and what is fear?” On the 80’s era Janet Jackson-evocative song, she goes on to sing one of the most agreeable all-too-true-lyrics of 2018: “Seems like everyday we’re losing, when we chose to read the news.”
‘Ain’t Nobody’ – which is surprisingly not a cover of Chaka Khan‘s 1983 hit but demonstrates some of the album’s funk influences – ‘Hot For The Mountain’ and ‘Sisters’ are the tracks most occupied with enforcing change.
“You gotta keep your sisters close to ya“, sings Prass on ‘Sisters’, a Neo-soul anthem in the style of Erykah Badu that powerfully encapsulates a woman’s point of view on life and her struggles to reach the top due to discriminating factors.
Important lyrics include: “One time for our girls at school/And when they grow up and try to work/They ain’t nothing but the shorter skirt.” The use of backing vocals – regularly used on the record to enforce a gospel vibe – and forcefully driving piano effectively make it sound like a purposeful rallying cry.
Closer ‘Ain’t Nobody’ follows a similar feminist theme and features the line: “I am the sources of my body’s choices now.” It encourages a group mentality by instructing: “Sing out your voices. This kind of noise is, one that rejoices.”
Futhermore, Prass summons outcasts of all types to the protesting march on the orchestral Quadron-reminiscent mellow soul ‘Hot For The Mountain’ with the lines: “Break down the door, we’ll beat a path. So will you stand up and be counted? We’ll take you on.”
Its beautiful string moments bring back the theatrical similarities of her debut but the hip-hop associated bell rhythm and her rapping articulation exemplify the record’s stark differences.
Despite being produced again by long term friend Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass’s voice is a lot more diverse this time around. Rather than sticking to her self-stylized sweet vulnerable tone throughout, it changes character and personality per song. It takes away her distinctive identity but creates an eclectic listen, sounding like the aforementioned Janet Jackson on a few tracks, Danielle Haim on ‘The Fire’ and Emeli Sande on ballad ‘Lost’ and ‘Nothing To Say’, one of the album’s surprisingly modern pop moments.
Although there’s doom and gloom on the news and in our daily lives, The Future and The Past tries to remain optimistic, and the celebratory track ‘Short Court Style’ delivers a message that everything has ups and downs but, ultimately, hanging onto the love you have is the most important thing: “Round and round, had ups and downs. No I can’t be without, my love that I have found.”
The Future and The Past is released on June 1st through ATO Records.