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Review: Natalie Williams

Review: Natalie Williams Soul Family
(Ronnie Scott’s, February 21st 2010, review by Edward Randell)

Soul singer Natalie Williams’ weekend knees-up has been a monthly fixture at Ronnie’s for three years now. And, if Sunday night’s show was anything to go by, it’s here to stay. Williams and her band – three backing singers plus trumpet, tenor sax and rhythm – were firing on all cylinders from the first tune (forthcoming single ‘Keep Me Holding On’), with the vocalists’ harmonised phrases packed full of attitude and tightly locked into the groove. Nor did the standard slip over the first set, which consisted mainly of Williams’s own songs. If these rarely strayed from tried-and-tested soul forms and lyrical tropes, it hardly mattered: the medium was the message here. As a singer, Natalie Williams has an authentic soul sound equally comfortable with badass belting or feathery scat. As bandleader and compere, she radiates generosity, with nothing whatsoever of the diva.

With a band this tight, any slips immediately become part of the act: “shit ha-a-a-appens”, Williams sang as she struggled to remember the lyrics of ‘One Minute’, which went on to feature mean guitar work from Ben Jones. This was followed up by ‘Company’, a slow Zero 7-ish groover that was lifted onto another plane by Quentin Collins‘ outstanding bop-inflected trumpet solo. Williams took us somewhere more introspective with an affecting version of Björk’s ‘Hyperballad’, accompanied only by piano and a subtle delay effect, before bringing back the full band for a finger-snapping set closer, Toto’s ‘Georgy Porgy’.

The first set’s precision gave way to a more relaxed vibe in the second set. After three of her own tunes, Williams invited up a succession of singers, including her three backing vocalists. Perhaps inevitably, some of these guest spots strayed close to high-class karaoke. But there were some truly arresting moments, from the vocalists who favoured simplicity over melismatic noodling. A special mention must go to the mesmeric Krystle Warren, who last performed alongside Williams at the London Jazz Festival’s ‘Jazz Voice’ spectacular – reviewed HERE. Armed only with an unamplified and broken-stringed acoustic guitar, Warren succeeded where several before her had failed, by coaxing the audience into a singalong. The song in question, ‘Forget Me Not’, was comfortably the most original of the originals sung last night.

The evening ended with Natalie Williams, who had been on backing vocal duties for several of her guests, returning to centre stage to duet with pop singer Raff on Womack & Womack’s 1988 hit ‘Teardrops’. With normal service resumed, the band took no more than the first few bars to remind us what a fantastically slick unit they could be. It was a pity that the stellar horn players found themselves at a loose end for much of the second set. But then again, the informal open-mic feel of the latter half was at the heart of the show’s charm, that warm welcoming vibe which Williams creates, and keeps the audiences coming back month afer month to the bosom of the (Soul) Family.

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