The poetry of anger and disappointment delivered powerfully by Natalie D-Napoleon
Somewhat ironically Natalie D-Napoleon only recorded ‘You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea‘ because, although she had the songs she was through music and thought she may as well just lay them down as a last act of closure. The plan was to pocket them and then concentrate on her PhD in Poetry back in her native Australia. And then other people got to hear them. And suggested that maybe these songs deserved their chance to be heard. And from the first song on the album you can tell what they were getting at. ‘Thunder Rumour‘ is a big ballad – imbued with dread by Doug Pettibone’s guitar, it’s a direct kiss-off to the self-delusion of someone who thinks they’re making all the right moves: “Set fire to your clothes on the front lawn” is a pretty direct statement that he’s not really wanted. And if there’s any doubt then “lock the windows bolt the door / My love don’t live here anymore” should dispel them. The growing intensity of the vocal and the accompaniment is a thundering, but believable, rage. Great opener. There’s more lost love on the album’s title song, a gentler meditation on the one-sided end of a relationship “it’s not my fault” D-Napoleon reminds herself, adding “you were never there when I needed you.”
The album has other themes than decayed emotional bonds: ‘Mother of Exiles‘ is a song that had a hard birthing – Mary Gauthier no-less was so heavy with her criticism at a song writing retreat that Natalie D-Napoleon was left howling her grief like a coyote in the night. Picking herself up the next day she came up with this very folky plea for the tired and the hungry, the world’s refugees, to be given some succour, just as the Statue of Liberty had promised. It’s a song that questions what the value of the American Dream is in the 21st Century. There’s an uplifting joy to the litany of methods for dealing with sadness that is ‘How You Break a Spell’ – from the self-help of “wrote down everything I knew to forget it all” to the more practical cures for a curse “burn a lock of my lover’s hair in a bowl of clay. ./…/ I howled at the yellow moon until my hair turned grey.” In the end though it’s the destination that matters, not the route taken. Reinvention is revisited on the perky folk-rock of ‘Cut Your Hair‘, which initially proposes a simpler form of starting again which becomes somewhat more extreme as the song progresses “When you want to start again / shave it off until you’re stripped back like a baby / Shave it off / get rid of it all / start a fire / scorch the earth with gasoline / don’t look back.”
‘You Wanted to be the Shore but Instead You Were the Sea‘ is, unsurprisingly, a poetic album – with a strong musical core provided by James Connolly (Van Dyke Parks/Jeff Bridges) on bass, Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams/John Mayer) on guitar, pedal steel, and mandolin, and Dan Phillips on piano and percussion. A lot of the intensity is due to James Connolly (who also produced) hitting on recording the songs using a single microphone in a one-hundred-year-old wooden chapel nestled in the hills behind Santa Barbara. This, it was hoped, would capture a near live spontaneity, imbuing the songs with passionate life. They were right, it did.