Though this is Natasha Watts’ debut solo album, the honey-voiced songbird is something of a soul veteran. Raised in a musical family, she first went down the stage school route but, aged just 16, she went to the States where she worked both in stage musicals and on the Gospel circuit – for a time she was part of Kirk Franklin’s “Family”. In 2006 she was back in the UK fronting a band called Funkshone before going solo and working with Sed Soul, Josh Milan, Reel People, DJ Spen, Kerri Chandler and many more on the modern soul/soulful house circuit. Some fine Sed Soul produced singles – ‘Born A Star’ and ‘Go Slow’ – won her soul chart status, while her latest single , ‘Change’, went to no. 1 on many soul radio listings. The track also found its way onto Expansion’s recent ‘Luxury Soul’ compilation bringing Ms Watts to a wider audience. So what better time to release that first, all-important album? Et voila… here it is -an eponymous 12 tracker that defines the current sound of modern soul – that very particular musical hybrid that melds contemporary production with the heart warming, good time, roots nostalgia of the whole 80s Weekender thing.
The aforementioned three singles open the album. ‘Born A Star’ is a tight, crunchy beater; ‘Go Slow’ is a mid-tempo ultra catchy item; ‘Change’ is different again – a lovely, light bossa nova with an almost whispered vocal. A varied opening salvo, then, and that variety continues right through the set. ‘Stars’ is a classic 80s soul/pop thing; ‘So Done’ has the feel of electro soul (though it’s rescued by some punchy brass); ‘Hold Up’ is almost funky; ‘Leave’ has a jazzy undertow; and ‘So Done’ and Tonite’ are cute slowies. For my sins I keep tracking to ‘Good Love’. Beat-wise, it’s a heavy hitter almost reaching soulful house territory though I’m sure that producer Simon Philips has been listening to his old Drizabone albums. Garnishing a cut with Driza flavours is a sure fire way to win the hearts (and feet) of the notoriously conservative modern soul crew, so watch this one fly.
Yep, for a modern soul set there’s a lot of lovely flavours here. What gives the collection its unity is the quality of the songs, the polished production (be it the Sed Soul boys, Mr Philips or SJF’s old mate, Dee Majek) and, of course, Natasha’s fine vocals. Always sweet and melodic, she can belt it out with the best (that Gospel training, no doubt) and do the old intimate low key thing too. A classic modern soul set, this.