NATALIE GARDINER: California (Label: Ramjac)

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Despite this album’s title, Natalie Gardiner hails from Uppsala in deepest darkest Sweden where in the long cold winters she immersed herself in her mother’s extensive jazz and soul collection. ‘California’ is her second full album and repeated listens betray those influences. Ms. Gardiner has her own very particular vocal style. It’s laid back and cool and you’ll hear traces of people like Minnie Riperton, Sade and even Jill Scott and Norah Jones. Her laid back, almost laconic approach is matched by the music which is supplied by some of Sweden’s top session players. However, their instrumentation is largely electronic and therein lies the problem. It all sounds too sterile to be truly soulful and though Natalie offers passion the players sound too detached from her particular commitment to the lyric. Occasionally it does come together – as on ‘Summer Rain’ and ‘On The Low’. That first one boasts a decent if wistful melody line and creates its own tension; the other cut offers precise clipped beats and could almost encourage dancers … note – I say “almost”. There, you see, is another of the album’s drawbacks. The eleven tracks are all very serious – some would even say po-faced. There is nothing here that could be called optimistic. Even the deepest soul album usually offers a degree of lightness or maybe a hint of joy or the prospect of better times to come. Here Natalie and cohorts wallow in doom and gloom… maybe it’s that Scandinavian winter… I don’t know. I just feel that ‘California’ should have a little brightness.
(BB) 3/5