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NATALIE D-NAPOLEON – THE DUKE OF GEORGE

Natalie D-Napoleon
Natalie D-Napoleon

NATALIE D-NAPOLEON
ALBUM LAUNCH, YOU WANTED TO BE THE SHORE BUT INSTEAD YOU WERE THE SEA
THE DUKE OF GEORGE
7 November

Photos by Brett Leigh Dicks

During the encore of Natalie D-Napoleon’s sold out album launch at the Duke of George in East Fremantle on Saturday night, the Fremantle-based singer-songwriter invited the evening’s opening act, Matthew de la Hunty, back to the stage.

She brings a poetic sensibility backed by intricate arrangements to her songs, which themselves blur the line between pop, folk, and Americana music.

Along with thanking the singer-songwriter for his contribution to the night, D-Napoleon mentioned the huge impact his band, Tall Tales & True, had on her as a budding musician and how she thought his song, “Trust,” should have been a massive worldwide hit. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about de la Hunty going into this show but learnt that although the song wasn’t a worldwide hit, it did reach #51 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 Of All Time.

The former Tall Tales and True frontman delivered a powerful set of old and new material, throwing in a handful of acoustically-presented hits from his old band and an inspiring selection of newer solo compositions for good measure. It was apparently the first time de la Hunty has played locally this year and as the set unveiled itself, his clever wordplay, deft playing, and commanding stage presence quickly made those not familiar with his past accomplishments realise he was someone very special.

Matthew de la Hunty

D-Napoleon fittingly took de la Hunty’s lead when opening her set. With her band silently in place behind her, she presented a solo acoustic rendition of ‘Mother of Exiles’, a song she wrote as a love letter to her second home, America. Not only was it a stirring moment given the momentous events that were unfolding on the other side of the world that night but it also provided a clever segue between performances.

The evening was the official launch of D-Napoleon’s new album, You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea, so it was no surprise the record featured prominently throughout her set. The other thing to feature prominently was D-Napoleon’s control of temper and tone. She brings a poetic sensibility backed by intricate arrangements to her songs, which themselves blur the line between pop, folk, and Americana music.

Songs like ‘Thunder Rumour’ and ‘Cut Your Hair’ have hints of Lucinda Williams’ rawness while some of her more delicate compositions such as ‘Gasoline & Liquor’ and ‘Broken’ are reminiscent of Brandi Carlile. Then there were magical moments like “How to Break a Spell” and “Wildflowers” that are completely without comparison for me at least.

In absorbing D-Napoleon’s deft wordplay, it comes as no surprise to learn that she is also a national award-winning poet. Within her lyrics she delivers just enough insight to draw in the listener without giving too much away, making the songs both intriguing and relatable. Her musical arrangements walk a similar tightrope, always serving the emotion of the lyrics but never being brash or overstated.

Given much of D-Napoleon’s subject matter deals with women’s issues, it’s a very clever approach. In a song like ‘Reasons’ for example, the airy acoustics and beautiful viola have you swaying along with the swirling melody to a song that’s basically about losing a baby.

A lot of that is also thanks to her impressive band. Featuring Ben Franz on bass and pedal steel, Andy Pearson on drums and percussion, Dave Brewer on electric guitar, and Cathi Oliveri on viola and piano, the musicians perfectly weaved their way in and out of the songs.

Be it Franz’s haunting bass lines on ‘Soft’, Brewer’s blazing electric guitar on ‘Thunder Rumor’ and ‘Cut Your Hair’, Oliveri’s sprightly piano on ‘No Longer Mine’, or Pearson’s crescendoing percussion on ‘You Wanted To be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea,’ the band shone both individually and collectively.

The order of the songs was also interesting. Ranging from ‘all-in’ songs like ‘Leaving Me Dry’ and ‘You Wanted To be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea’ to compositions such as ‘Broken’ where only Brewer’s delicate electric guitar accompanied D-Napoleon’s soaring vocals (one of the highlights of the night for me), the sequence provided an emotional tug-of-war fuelled and a set that ebbed and flowed.

Matthew de la Hunty joined the ensemble at the end of the night for a lively version of D-Napoleon’s ‘The Well Song.’ After a false start the collective finally powered its way through the raucous duet where de la Hunty and D-Napoleon swapped verses. After delivering such a valiant set of her own, it was wonderful to see D-Napoleon humbled to have one of her musical heroes singing alongside her. But more than anything else, it was wonderful to see a woman in full command of both her art and destiny.

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