Natalie Gardiner. Ghanian father-Swedish mother. Soul singer extraordinaire. Her recordings are in English. Her parents had an extensive collection of Black music recordings. I don’t know how much blues she heard–and I mean stripped-down, stomped-down, acoustic country blues. That basic guitar and aching voice stuff. She does not have a rural sound, but she’s got the blues in aces with two useless/useful (depending on the situation) jokers in her deck. (If you don’t play cards, you don’t know nothing about them jokers, especially if you don’t much play bid whist; but that’s a whole other story.)
Anyway, this Natalie lady has a super-smooth sound. Although she ain’t cutting nobody, Natalie is deadly without being bloody. Her sound gets to you like a slow poison, sort of what Roberta meant when she sang “killing me softly with his song”.
Once you really listen, especially once you reflect on her lyrics, Natalie can be sort of a sonic suicide; ain’t nothing much to say after she has put her touch on despair. The way she sings. Lullabies of loneliness. She makes the demise of relationships sound beautiful. Natalie has a uniquely quiet, albeit thorough-going approach to articulating emotional pain.
She has three full-length albums and a set of three inter-related EPs. I’ve included selections from each.
Initially, she employs minimal instrumentation. Generally just a piano or a guitar, maybe embellished by touches of electronics, and judicious use of percussion instruments–enough for a backbeat but not no wilding out. One enticing track is fleshed out by a sax and trumpet duo, and while “Let’s Not Worry About Tomorrow” really makes one wish to hear her with backing horns, Natalie’s vocals don’t require any such support to burrow deep into us.
Indeed, she overdubs her voice to comprise an appropriate backing ensemble. “Lonely Coming Home”, her only solo voices track, is an a-cappella masterpiece. Hearing a chorus of over-dubbed voices on one track next to backing horns on another track is an interesting juxtaposition that truly highlights her strength as a vocalist, whether on her own or in the company of fellow musicians.
Her quiet lamentations of loss, hurt, frustration, and short-lived joys have a soft/strong sound that is stunningly beautiful. She does not shout nor get loud and dirty, but, still, she makes you wanna holler when she plummets the depths of emotional despair.
There was a major time break between the first three albums and the trio of EPs. Her last full-length was in 2011 and the three EPs are from 2020, nine years later, which is a couple of lifetimes in the contemporary entertainment industry. I was afeared that she had abandoned music, and then she dropped those EPs, all of which more than fulfilled the promise established in her earlier albums.
This is contemplative music. Like we all have, to one degree or another, suffered love cuts, may even have been deeply punctured to the quick, as in “don’t want to no more even much, go no where near love”. However, thankfully, Natalie’s music ultimately is medicinal. At the very least she offers a sonic bandage. Moreover, her aurally rich expressions of despair and disappointment might just be the balm one’s broken heart needs to mend. (This seeming contradiction–the blues can make you feel good about feeling bad–is perhaps one of the great secrets of GBM, i.e. Great Black Music–the music be a boat that ferries us cross beaucoup troubled waters.
In any case, even if you are happily hooked up, Natalie’s oeuvre will appeal to you, as in “how glad I am to be in love with you” rather than out there on my own searching for love or, worse yet, coming back home, abandoning the search as an impossible dream.
Although her music is produced in Sweden, Natalie’s entire collection is available at a bargain price on Bandcamp. Check her out, you won’t be sorry.
Natalie Gardiner (2004)
Northern Skies (2011)