A debut album of plentiful potential from the reality TV graduate.
Fraser McAlpine 2012
Imagine if Paloma Faith could sing as well as she dresses: what a world that would be! Especially if she genuinely had the kind of eccentric baroque soul and jazz material that best suits her provocative mode of performance.
Think of the musical box of delights from which she could choose. Little classical piano motifs among the painstakingly recreated torch songs; a clanging Portishead hammer dulcimer to add tartness to the sweet ballads; an occasional high-kicking bridge to Broadway and back. Why, that’s the kind of heady concoction that could knock the hardiest sailor back on his heels.
Natalie Duncan, BBC reality TV graduate (she appeared on Goldie's Band: By Royal Appointment) and possessor of some remarkable elegantly distressed vocal folds for a 22-year-old, has gone some distance towards making that thought a reality. Her songs, while usually operating within an easily recognisable genre – soul, blues, jazz or reggae, mostly – will often bring in some idiosyncratic little touch, just to class things up a bit.
Examples are plentiful. The formal piano and cello recital that opens Old Rock; the backwards guitar at the end of She Done Died; or the fact that Lonely Child has pinched the chorus from Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The latter situation serves to prove that Pink Floyd had more than a little soul in their monolithic arsenal, if nothing else.
And when the Nottingham singer connects, as she does on Black Thorn – a swing blues blessed with languid vibraphone – or the show-stopping Uncomfortable Silence, everything fizzes.
As an album, it’s by no means perfect. There are 14 hefty songs on offer, making this an obligation that does not reward the easily distracted, and some of them don’t escape their musical roots, or fight hard enough for attention, or get to the point quickly enough to justify their inclusion. But she’s on the right lines.
A more focused collection next time, one that doesn’t stint on the weirdness and still delivers the emotive wallop, and Duncan could easily knock all the other showboating sirens off their metallic toy poodles.