Recorded in a day, and predominantly featuring cover songs, Natalie Prass’ new EP Side by Side teaches us very something very important about the Virginian songwriter. Even when riding rough, the former backing singer for Jenny Lewis cannot escape her personal brand of folk/pop glamour established on this year’s debut Natalie Prass. And that is a very very good thing.
Covers are a tricky business…the culture of being first doesn’t just apply to the internet. And Prass certainly doesn’t make it easy for herself by choosing three disparate artists (Grimes, Anita Baker, and Simon & Garfunkel) as her targets. But making them over in her own image—Disney Princess soprano, 1970s-leaning guitar licks, sepia-toned longing and all, Prass successfully claims, if not ownership, then at least strong borrowers rights. In her hands, the darkness is chased out of “Sound of Silence,” replaced instead with jazzy vocal slurs (a vocal tip of the hat to singer Carmen McRae who covered the track in the 1960s). Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture,” is polished to a lounge pop gem. And Grimes’ futuristic “REALITi” is stripped back to a sparse folk lament. The best part is that it actually works without feeling forced. If one must insist on marking Prass’ musical style as glamour, the word “comfortable” should always proceed it.
Included on the EP are two tracks from Prass’ self-titled debut. From a marketing standpoint, this is an obvious bid to align the singer/songwriter with the “greats” she covers. The marketing actually works, even from a purely musical standpoint. “My Baby Don’t Understand Me,” is a masterclass in the art of a slow boil, as the chorus of “our love is a long goodbye” builds gradually from heartsick lament to a heartfelt plea. An ethereal mist of a song, “Christy” drives up the drama by scaling back the bombast, Prass offering up a vocal bite sans shout. “It’s so wrong that I’ll be here for him when all your love is gone,” she gracefully moans. Prass may traffic in yesteryear romanticism, but she’s no one’s wilting flower.