Critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Natalie York had a seismic artistic epiphany making her latest album, Promises. Previously, the Brooklyn-based artist garnered accolades for her quiet-fire aesthetic, a mix of contemporary folk and simmering Stax soul. But for her sophomore record, she decided to do something bold – make a rock record filtered through her distinct Americana vision.
Natalie grew up in the Washington DC area, and quickly established herself in the local scene, garnering attention from The Washington Post, DC Music Download, and Washingtonian Magazine. The Washington Post called Natalie’s debut “one of the best local releases of 2010,” praising her “soulful and warm vocals” and “sophisticated palette.” Natalie has earned favorable comparisons to Grace Potter, Norah Jones, and Bonnie Raitt. She studied jazz at the University of Miami, and was the first graduate from the distinguished institution’s Bruce Hornsby Creative American Music Program. In addition to press plaudits and academic accomplishments, Natalie has established a highly credible artist profile through performing and working with such diverse talents as Jonny Lang, Bruce Hornsby, Shawn Colvin, Lamont Dozier, Jim Lauderdale, Jon Secada, and Phil Ramone.
Initially, the plan for her follow-up album was to record in a church, with acoustic instrumentation and one microphone in order to distill her smoldering Americana down to its bare essentials. But, she realized, that approach wouldn’t be authentic to her artistic journey—rather, it would only represent half of the inspiration equation. Recording in a church would capture the spirit of formative influences like Dinah Washington, Karen Dalton, and Ralph Stanley, but it wouldn’t capture her love of brasher artists like Wilson Pickett and AC/DC. One night at a bar, producer/indie rock singer-songwriter Russ Flynn overheard Natalie discussing this quandary with friends and offered to produce her. “I never thought he’d follow up,” Natalie says, laughing. “It just seemed like one of those wild propositions people make at 2 AM.”
But Russ would prove to be the ideal creative foil for Promises. As an indie rocker with a degree in jazz arranging, he helped enliven her signature, sophisticated accessibility with big electric-guitar riffs and punchy horn arrangements.
Promises was recorded live in communal congeniality in the Catskills at Old Soul Studios. Throughout the sessions, the studio band—which featured Russ’ Glass Elephant bandmates Danny Wolf, drums and Sam Petitti, guitar, along with bassist James Quinlan and guitarist/singer-songwriter Jon Paul—lived together and ate together with Russ as the chef. This atmosphere made an indelible imprint on the record. Tracks like “Promises” and “Wheels” have grace and grit. The latter tune’s gutbucket slide guitars curling around Natalie’s unique whiskey and honey vocals make it the optimum bridge between her past work and her current, more muscular musicality.
Much of the album was written about romantic missteps and false-starts. Its weary emotionality is best expressed through the stunning “Lickety Split.” “That song is about the fantasy connections we concoct in our minds before we even know a person. Like when you think you can see a whole relationship play out before you’re even friends,’” Natalie says with a good-natured laugh.
Promises may seem like a brave step for Natalie, but it’s really a natural progression in her artistic evolution, and she will always cherish that album-making time she had in the Catskills because it allowed her to authentically further her creative continuum. “We recorded daily from noon to 10 PM,” she recalls. “After the sessions, we would all lay in front of a wood-burning stove and listen to Pink Floyd on vinyl. That’s my fondest memory. Everything just felt so right.”