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January/February 2008

Nanette Natal
I Must Be Dreaming
Benyo Music Productions

The résumé is impressive: Nanette Natal has been steadily active since 1962, crisscrossing classical, folk and rock before finally settling into a Nina Simone-esque jazz groove in the ’70s and ’80s. The sentiment seems worthy: seven self-penned protest songs meant to address the domestic and global turmoil of the Dubya era. The album is a mess.

The promotional material asks us to “listen carefully to this serious work.” I dutifully did, twice. Yes, Natal’s instrument remains, nearly a half-century on, rich and authoritative, marred only by a penchant for annoying theatrical flourishes. But the songs—really just angry tone poems layered over dully repetitive chords—are at once overwrought and naïve. Much of Natal’s ranting sounds like selections from open mike night at a freshman poetry slam. To wit: divvying up fat, allegorical slices of “Apple Pie” because “We fight for money/We lie for money/We die for money,” or, in “Can We Begin With That?,” the jejune suggestion that, “The season now is anger/The climate filled with fear.” When it comes to the fundamentals of jazz singing, Natal has a lot to teach (and, indeed, does in New York). When it comes to genuinely forceful, effective rallying cries, she could take a lesson from Joan Baez, or the Dixie Chicks, or Nina Simone.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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