Friday, September 15, 2017


You probably don't know the artist who is performing the above song, "God at the Races" but if you  are a music lover, then you probably should. Her name is Natalie Hamilton, and in a world that is mired in mediocrity posing as music, she is an undiscovered gem. I am well aware that the cracks are wide, and true artists slip through them all the time, relegated to plying their trade in noisy restaurants  and bars, struggling to be heard amid the drunken banter and clinking glasses. The end of each song punctuated by polite, perfunctory applause, or even worse, no applause at all, life altering songs like God At The Races reduced to merely background noise.
But Natalie Hamilton, with her powerful composing and musicianship is an artist that shouldn't have to be listened to while a waitress discusses menu specials. She should be heard in an acoustically perfect concert hall, to a rapt audience hanging onto every vocal nuance and jazzy piano run, as well as every poetic lyric.

"it was hard to believe when he said
the angels weren't calling the dead
and I had fallen off
the wrong side of a golden fence
it was hard to believe when he claimed
I wouldn't be leaving today
I'd have to wait it out with the devils and the holy meds" 

Lyrics like that should never be drowned out, they should be shouted out, or better still, quietly whispered to a stone silent audience intent on listening.

I have always maintained certain guidelines when it comes to  my musical  heroes and icons. They play the music, I listen to the music, and as the saying goes, "never the twain shall meet" I have never harbored an interest in personally connecting  to the people that move me musically, seeking autographs or gawking at them after a concert like a crazed fan. None of those dynamics have ever been part of the equation, that chasm between artist and fan has always seemed appropriate. It's a "pay no attention to that man(or woman) behind the curtain scenario, or as Bruce Springsteen explains it, "never let them see the magic trick"

So what happens when I am sitting in a diner, having coffee with the artist Natalie Hamilton? Now I am right across from the magic trick, able to question the process, get behind the curtain, get a sense of what it's like to be able to sing, play piano, and compose music that can stand alongside and even surpass many of the singer/songwriters I have admired throughout my life. What makes a person capable of writing a song as complex and beautiful as "God at the Races", a song about towing the line between sane and insane, life and death, losing faith, losing God, losing Self?  Listening to it reminded me of the first time I witnessed Nina Simone, my musical palate at 18 not yet sophisticated enough to fully comprehend the complex beauty of what I was hearing.  All I knew is that her voice, and the sound of that piano raised goosebumps up and down my arms, drawing me into a world of music that went well beyond anything I was listening to at that point of my life. And when I first heard "God at the Races" sitting at my computer, at work, I wanted to get up from my desk and give a one person standing ovation. Great music always gives me chills and sitting in my terminally frozen office, this song made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight. For a true music lover there is no better feeling. It's rare now that a new discovery can move me in such a fashion, but when it happens, it's like mining for gold and finding a shiny nugget hidden in the sludge.
The dichotomy playing out as we talk is , is it necessary for me to peek behind the curtain.?  Do I really need or even want to know the story and meaning behind a lyric like; 
"I walked myself to the window
 and watched as the rain
beat silent songs upon the trees 
I watched that window laugh at me."

What influenced her to write a song like "Oh Emmanuel", which seems to be an amalgam of the artists she admires, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos and even Stephen Sondheim while remaining uniquely Natalie Hamilton .Well, given this rare opportunity I of course want to know everything. So the first thing I do is  ask a million questions because my musical curiosity knows no bounds, I want to know every detail of the process, what inspired her, what do the lyrics signify, will she autograph my napkin? Okay, so I didn't ask for an autograph, but talking to her about the incredible music she has composed did have me teetering on that fence between  the  distance I have always maintained, and rabid, gawking, autograph seeking fan.

I don't know that I got the answers to any of these questions. Natalie Hamilton remained a bit of an enigma to me, seemingly only showing herself through the soul baring music that she writes. And shouldn't that be enough?  Isn't that the key element that  separates  us from the artists that move and inspire us. A few years ago I was able attend a showing of some of Vincent Van Gogh's  paintings at The Yale Art Museum. I didn't need to know the inspiration behind the art to appreciate the beauty of what I was seeing. One of the key elements I took  away from my time with Natalie was  the sense of frustration inherent in being a talented musician in an era where more people are familiar with the names Justin Beiber and Britney Spears than they  are with Nyro, Mitchell, Sondheim and Amos combined. A classic ballad like "Show Me Your Love", which I guarantee would be known by everyone had it appeared on an Adele record, goes virtually unnoticed, while the tabloid variety pop stars fill up the airwaves. And yet, Natalie Hamilton struggles like Van Gogh, unable to sell a painting. At least, not yet...

I will end this blog with the first song I listened to by Natalie, a song that immediately gave me a sense that something unique was happening here. Has there ever been a more dismissive break up lyric than "you brush me off with the dust discreetly"

Unlike Sting's Every Breath You Take, Natalie tackles the subject of being stalked by an ex lover with a sunny sense of humor, almost like being stalked by her might be fun.
If given the choice I prefer it to Sting's brooding,  lurking in the shadows Stephen King like approach, 

"I know I  must have looked a little bit funny
Straddling the fence right outside your family party
but just to be fair you looked a little bit odd
through binoculars duct taped to a tripod"

is a hell of a lot more cheerful than
"Every breath you take
every move you make
every bond you break
every step you take
I'll be watching you

I guarantee that if you take the time to listen to this incredible artist you will be touched and moved in a variety of ways, and cheerful will be among them. It's been a long time since I have found something new that has affected  me in such a profound way. Like many people of my generation I tend to go back to old favorites, tried and tested songs that  still affect me, but not in that chill inducing, goosebump raising way that something new will. The beauty of this is that I am still in the discovery phase with Natalie, she has two full CD's worth of original music, Carbon Cocktail, released in 2008 and 2011's Red Ball Rising. Like all great music and albums I seem to find a new"favorite" song among them every couple of days. Today's favorite is her cover of the Fleetwood Mac classic "Lanslide". Tomorrow I know  it will be something different.  I love when music does that to me.

My hope is that at some point Natalie achieves a measure of commercial success commensurate  with the artistic success she has already achieved, and, unlike Van Gogh, is able to reap the financial benefits her music deserves. And even better still, she is able to achieve this with both of her ears intact.

Natalie is currently in the process of composing a musical, both book music and lyrics.You can get more information about this as well as listen to more of her music and find out  where she may be performing locally at these websites. .

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