Natalie Prass: The Beauty of Collaboration
Romance is a motif that has dominated artistic expressions for centuries. And it’s no wonder, since the desire for relationship is innate in humans. Romance in art is prevalent, and we do not want it to be otherwise, I think. Even in thematically dark stories, like Crime and Punishment, there is often a romance that alters the action – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. Thankfully, however, much of it that is unworthy, or, by way of a better description, much of it that is juvenile and base, like many of the Victorian melodramas that dominated stages in the nineteenth-century, has been swept out of our cultural consciousness. Unearned expressions of romance in art may titillate for a season, but time will ultimately refuse to recognize cheap expressions of one of humanity’s most defining characteristics.
And, as a 6’2”, two-hundred-plus pound, bearded man, I am in love with romantic artistic expressions. I weep unabashedly at love and loss in movies. I dreamily listen to love songs. The sight of young couples, old couples, and in-between couples expressing hopeful romance in public causes me to smile. The notion of unrequited love still resonates deeply within me, even though I’ve been happily married for ten years now. Which is why, although almost a year late (it was released January 27, 2015), I want to publicly thank Natalie Prass for her self-titled, debut album.
Natalie Prass is one of music’s strongest romantic expressions in recent memory, albeit a heartbreaking recounting of romance’s defeat. The album has achieved that acclaim, I think, due in no small part to the amount of time Prass’ songs percolated before their final iterations. And I’m not talking about the nearly three years wait between recording and eventual release.
As Grantland pointed out, Natalie Prass is, among other things, a testament to the power of collaboration. Having written the songs over the space of several years, performed them in a variety of venues, and finally recorded them with childhood friend Matthew White as producer, the songs on Natalie Prass have undergone an evolution that has culminated in a richness of artistic depth and expression that does justice to one our most meaningful desires as humans.
Matthew White, founder of Spacebomb Records, is an artist who loves the depth found in old school soul and gospel. Marrying the naturally introspective lovelornness of Natalie Prass with the bold and in-your-face foundation of 70s era soulful horns and timeless strings, White took Prass’ beautiful songs and lifted them into the realm of the transcendent – like all good stories.
In the spirit of the power of collaboration, I’m going to pair Natalie Prass with beers that are the product of collaboration between breweries. Craft beer is characterized by a generosity of spirit among competitors that challenges the way the free market is supposed to work. Acting more like friends and family members than business owners competing for the same dollars within a small market share, breweries not only encourage and support each other, but frequently share recipes and know-how in the spirit of artistic collaboration.
“My Baby Don’t Understand Me”
Natalie Prass opens with an empathetic bang. The throw-back and soulful horns on “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” lift Prass’ emotive voice onto the mountain from which she achingly confesses, “Our love is a long goodbye.” Repeated over the band’s swell, the line doesn’t so much build as glide into the full velvety power that sets the tone for the rest of the album, both musically and thematically.
The three brewery collaborative team of 10 Barrel Brewing Company, Blue Jacket, and Stone Brewing Company has gifted beer drinkers with the Suede Imperial Porter, a Porter that is rich, thick, and velvety. Infused with jasmine, avocado honey, and calendula flowers, the Suede Imperial Porter is layered and complex but without sacrificing the sturdy familiarity of Porters. Paired with Natalie Prass’ heartfelt tale of barren love, the Suede Imperial Porter will match nuance with nuance and beauty with beauty, but without ever coming close to crossing into tiresome or affected.
“There’s a shadow of a smile in your eye,” may be one of my favorite lyrics of the year. In fact, “Christy” may be one of my favorite songs of the year. Prass’ voice, while airy, betrays a depth of experience that provides a gravitas that may surprise some. Belting can be overrated and Prass demonstrates the power of subtlety. The soft strings sew the narrative tightly into Prass’ vocals by providing points of emphasis. A very well-constructed song that not only speaks to the songwriting abilities of Natalie Prass, but also helps solidify Matthew White’s growing reputation as a producer.
Belgian Strong Dark Ales inhabit the world of rich, bold malts as well as interesting, refreshing carbonation and spices. Russian River Brewing and Avery Brewing have collaborated together on the aptly named Collaboration Not Litigation Ale. A bold and flavorful Belgian Strong Dark Ale that packs a punch that may or may not be expected, the Collaboration Not Litigation is a good match for the surprising complexities of Prass’ voice and lyrics on “Christy.”
“Why Don’t You Believe In Me”
“Why Don’t You Believe In Me” is the story of estranged love within a relationship. For me, the song raises the question, which is worse, unrequited love or distance and coldness that is named love? Trying to outdistance the pain, the fleeing voice of Natalie Prass answers that question. Of course, when closure is sought, running is futile. And in the song, Prass never manages to escape her pain. The lyrics are juxtaposed with a jaunting and mocking instrumentation that drives Prass’ quest while simultaneously ensuring that there will be no escape.
Bite the Hand that Feeds is a Gose brewed by two Northern Virginia breweries, Adroit Theory and Sehkraft. Gose is an old German wheat beer style that uses up to 60% malted wheat. Along with ingredients like coriander, additional salt adds an extra layer of bite that doesn’t allow the sweetness of the wheat to run away with the flavor profile. The collaboration from Adroit Theory and Sehkraft is a tasty example of a Gose, and the alternating profiles of the style will pair well with “Why Don’t You Believe In Me.”
“It Is You”
I can think of precious few albums that end as appropriately as Natalie Prass. Sure, the romance from the Richmond, VA singer-songwriter’s debut album may be swirling with loss and pain, but romance is still at the album’s heart. “It Is You,” without compromising Prass’ pain, belongs in the heartiest of fairy tales. And not the watered-down, commoditized fairy tales that dominate today’s market; “It Is You” belongs in fairy tales that truly understand the cost of happy endings.
The overall Saison liveliness of the Saison du Buff matches the luscious strings of “It Is You,” but the spice and ester notes reflect the undercurrent of hurt that Natalie Prass intimately reveals in the final song on her debut album. The three collaborating breweries, Dogfish Head, Stone, and Victory, take turns brewing the beer using the same recipe. The results are an interesting comparison of strengths that result in a beer that while the same also differs from year to year.