Friday, February 19, 2021

Natalie D-Napoleon: “You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea” (2021) CD Review

Natalie D-Napoleon (Natalie Damjanovich-Napoleon) is a singer and songwriter who fronted the Australian band Bloom in the 1990s, and then Flavour Of The Month, before beginning a solo career. She is also a poet, and in 2018 was awarded the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, and then in 2019 published First Blood.  Now she has returned to music, releasing You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea, her first full-length album in eight years. It features all original material, and as you’d expect from someone who has won accolades for poetry, she creates some memorable, meaningful and moving lyrics on these tracks. She is joined by Dan Phillips on piano, celesta, cajon, percussion and backing vocals; Jim Connolly on bass and backing vocals; Doug Pettibone on electric guitar, mandolin and pedal steel; Angus Cooke on cello; and Laura Heminway on piano accordion. Freya Phillips, Susan Marie Reeves and Hazel Chevitarese provide backing vocals. Jesse Rhodes mixed the album, and provided additional instrumentation.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Thunder Rumor.” There is an undeniable power behind this song, a power that draws us in and commands our attention. Check out these opening lyrics: “Set fire to your clothes on the front lawn/You said babe I can find any port in a storm/The phone is telling me that you’re coming home/And every time it rings, my blood turns cold.” This track is haunting and compelling, and also strangely gorgeous, in part because of the presence of cello. That’s followed by “How To Break A Spell.” One line that stands out from this one each time I listen is “I wrote down everything I knew to forget it all.” That’s a great line. Sometimes we write things in order to not forget, and sometimes we write things in order to allow us to let them go, to put them into the past. “This is how you break a spell/This is how you forget all the stories you tell,” she instructs us in this engaging and interesting song, a song featuring a beautiful vocal performance.

“Wildflowers” is an exciting track, its sound making it feel like it takes place on some great expanse of land, leading to an ocean bluff, perhaps. There is something unrestrained and vibrant here, and this track features more beautiful vocal work. “Wildflowers will grow/Where my shadow lay down/No one will ever know/Of the love I lost and found.” And I love that mandolin. Then “Second Time Around” has a pretty sound and a positive vibe. “Everything is better the second time around,” Natalie D-Napoleon sings here, and we get the sense that the couple in this song have used what they’ve learned to improve things, or to appreciate things. Hey, we can use that sort of optimism, can’t we?

The vocal work on “No Longer Mine” is fantastic and completely engaging. “Oh darling, I can’t hide this feeling I’ve got inside.”  Sure, that line is simple, but it is effective, particularly the way Natalie delivers it, belting it out with a great, bright, truthful energy. Plus, this track contains some nice work on bass. The whole thing seems to declare, to shout out joyfully that things are going to be fine. That’s followed by the title track, “You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea,” another powerful song. “It was not my fault, it’s not my fault/I’ll say it again, so I remember, it’s not my fault.” This one builds tremendously, containing fantastic peaks that almost overwhelm us with their force, and then some mellower valleys as well. It is another of this disc’s many highlights. Then “Gasoline & Liquor” has a lonesome vibe, conjuring images of a desert road, with a bitter breeze, trucks of cold steel passing without human faces even visible. “Liquor and gasoline/One made me stay, the other helped you go.” There is some interesting use of percussion here.

Does everything happen for a reason?” Natalie D-Napoleon asks in “Reasons.” I’ve never agreed with people who say that everything happens for a reason. Natalie follows that line with this one: “Maybe we make the reasons to ease the pain.” Exactly. This song is from the perspective of a parent who has lost an unborn child. And what reason could there be for such a thing?  Is everything meant to be, and tell me is my baby in heaven?/How can we believe in a god that would take such a delicate life?/And who says we’re never given more than we can handle? /‘Cause I’ve been given too much far too many times, far too many times.” That is followed by “Cut Your Hair,” a song about making physical changes to your body to effect deeper changes, or at least to hope to show that you’ve made those changes. The album then concludes with “Broken” a beautiful song about being damaged. I love these lines: “If people knew the thoughts in my head/They would see I’m a record scratched beyond repair/Why can’t I be happy? What’s wrong with me?” Toward the end, Natalie sings, “What I see is beauty in your vulnerability/As the tears roll down your face.”

CD Track List

  1. Thunder Rumor
  2. How To Break A Spell
  3. Wildflowers
  4. Second Time Around
  5. Soft
  6. No Longer Mine
  7. You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea
  8. Gasoline & Liquor
  9. Mother Of Exiles
  10. Reasons
  11. Cut Your Hair
  12. Broken

You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea is scheduled to be released on CD on March 26, 2021. Apparently it was released digitally on September 30, 2020.

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