Nanette Natal: I Must Be Dreaming

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.