Natalie Duncan’s album Free is the first release on Goldie’s new record label Fallen Tree 1Hundred and it is very welcome in the current climate. Whilst reality feels surreal at the moment, this ethereal exploration of neo-soul, R&B and jazz is a wonderful piece of musical escapism by the singer.
Having featured on the BBC 2 show Goldie’s Band in the early 2010s, the DJ and executive producer of Free, Goldie, talks of seeing Natalie Duncan “grow over the last fifteen years [...] she’s blossomed into an absolute powerhouse singer and songwriter”. Free exemplifies this through the gorgeous harmonies and elegant vocals, with gracefully imaginative lyrics across the album.
There is something hauntingly beautiful about Free, it’s like being an observer of a distant love story and will be sure to resonate with the listeners’ personal experiences. Natalie Duncan points to thriving and growing through each other in a relationship on tracks like ‘Atrium’:
“Take me somewhere I can’t reach / Give me different memories / Give me all I’ve ever dreamed / Give me life so I can breathe”
The album features serene piano arrangements from Duncan that are complimented by Alan Mian’s chilled bass grooves, this relationship between the two instruments provides a fluid musical throughline which feels rather appropriate, as Free regularly refers to themes surrounding water. On ‘Lucid’ the sound effects and production encapsulate that experience of a dark dream which feels real, it sounds like existential drowning. Those twisted and hallucinogenic soundscapes are a dark, hip hop style sequence, comparative with the likes of Mick Jenkins and Solange, these and other influences fuse amongst Duncan's own hypnotising style.
The album also features some horns by Aaron Janik, whose trumpet frequently elevates those musical moments where the singer’s emotive storytelling intensifies, such as on her most recent single ‘Pools’. As with most of the album, the recording sounds live and transports you to a dimly lit music tent in the countryside. A live feel is particularly prescient in lead single ‘Sirens’ where Duncan romantically delves into the inspiration derived from someone you love as she asks “Can you make me fly?”.
The production and instrumentation of ‘Sirens’ are sprinkled with some lovely unearthly effects and a tinge of Rober Glasper in the jazzy drums, through Richard Spaven’s celestial rhythms. Aaron Janik also gets a cracking trumpet solo that blows through the summer air, floating over Love Supreme Festival, and into the setting sun...yes, we are absolutely gagging for some live music but Natalie Duncan will certainly be an artist to look out for on the 2021 festival circuit.
The singer effortlessly conveys the exposed vulnerability of truly giving your whole self to someone in ‘Nova’, a soulful jazz number in which Duncan sings “You’re the only one I let in”. You can hear these shifting emotions throughout, as the singer continues to candidly explore a mixture of fear and heartbreak, combined with the rebirth and freedom of leaving a destructive relationship in ‘Brave’.
Natalie Duncan provides the real feels and the real deal on Free, both lyrically and musically; she is able to emulate how a relationship is as much about being able to “stimulate” each other as it is about accepting and loving (or not loving) each other’s flaws, such as on the song ‘Strange’ – “I know I am insufferable sometimes but you can take me”. Later, on ‘Karma’, Duncan expresses the feeling of loneliness and the fear of that feeling - the clocks are ticking at the end of the track, counting down to that long-awaited new lease of life after a turbulent period.
Free presents artist Natalie Duncan in a musically book-ended personal story that is mesmerisingly relatable; it’s got a fresh sound, a live feel, and tastefully sophisticated production from both James Davidson (Sound & Mix Engineer) and Alex Evans (Vocal Engineer). The singer harks back to both charming and painful experiences that enhance her perspective throughout the album. There’s a magical quote from Nina Simone I want to end on, which features in the track ‘Glass’, because it truly summarises both the album’s drive and the beauty of it:
"What's free to me? It's just a feeling. It's just a feeling.
It's like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love? How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things, but you can't tell them. But you know it when it happens.
That's what I mean by free. I've had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that's something else. That's really something else.”
- Nina Simone extract from 'Glass'
Download the album here or listen on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms.
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