If you’re expecting the bold flights of wordless vocalizing that have defined so much of Nanette Natal’s previous recorded work, proceed directly to Sweet Summer Blue‘s seventh and final track, a lissome “I Got Rhythm” filled with those inimitable Natal touches. The balance of the album, comprising six original compositions, might wrongly be perceived as a new direction for Natal. In fact, they recall the earliest phase of her career, harkening back to her long-ago days on the coffeehouse circuit.
The recording technique skewed old-school too, with live performances transferred direct to two-track and then onto analog tape, contributing to the pervading warmth. The intimacy is heightened by the largely acoustic settings, featuring Rolf Sturm on guitars, Dave Silliman on drums, Tony Cimorosi on bass, Clarence Ferrari on violin, with Natal accompanying herself on guitar on three tracks. The arrangements provide her a pan-Americana palette, with waves of country, folk, blues and jazz variously roiling beneath.
Thematically, the songs are equally wide-ranging, extending from the evocation of quicksilver romance on “Silver Night” to the growly assertion of openheartedness on “Don’t Take the Easy Way Out.” Her slinking “It Sure Ain’t Nothin’ New,” propelled by Silliman’s bongos, skillfully examines the chimera of humankind, while the madrigal-like “The Eye and the Storm” and august “Deep in My Memory” offer impassioned prayers for peace. Most poignant, though, is Natal’s forlorn tally of modern American woes on “The Devil Is Working Here.”