Meet Natalie Grant
She has as much voice anyone could wish for—a clear, powerful and emotive instrument that makes listeners shake their heads and ask “how does anything big come out of someone so little?” She is lovely—strikingly so. It’s clear the woman has never taken a bad photograph. And yet we don’t hate for it, as she has the kind of wholesome beauty that is arresting without being intimidating.
She has presence—that intangible it factor that makes a room come alive when she’s in it. Take her from that room and put her on a stage and she’s poised and confident and graceful—and commanding.
And with a new major label deal, if ever there was an artist poised to grab the pop world by the throat, it’s Natalie. But whatever success comes her way, Natalie Grant will never be a diva, for one simple reason: she won’t.
However fashionable it may be to lead with attitude, to present a veneer of un-self-critical, in-your-face self-esteem, Natalie has made a deliberate choice to take her audience beyond the surface, to make her music always about—first and last—the things of the Spirit.
“ I’m convinced that what people really want—from music and their lives—is depth,” Natalie states, “and I feel like I have a responsibility to take them there. So much pop music today is disposable—the attitudes, the posturing, the styles—but it seems to be less about music than it is about appearance, about fashion. Now, there’s nothing wrong with fashion—I love that stuff as much or more than the next girl—I just don’t want it to define me. But the deeper things in life—values, relationships, family, and my faith in Christ—they are what’s most attractive about a person. And they’re why I sing.”
Thus Deeper Life, the third release from the Seattle-born singer (and her major label debut for Curb), is grounded in the understanding that for a great singer the desire to inspire an audience must trump the need to impress them.
“ Given the needs I know in myself, and that my audience share,” she explains, “it would be wrong for me to understand this opportunity with Curb as a chance to simply engrandize myself, to make people notice only me. I’ve got a responsibility to take them beyond myself—and even my experience of the answer—to the Answer itself. My life, my marriage, my music, even the causes I support—it all has to be about Jesus.”
While Deeper Life is easily Natalie’s most intimate, thoughtful, whole—and radio-ready—collection to date, it also convincingly demonstrates her growth as an artist, a woman, and a Christian.
“ I feel like over the past couple of years I’ve been going through a kind of metamorphosis, like a butterfly shedding her cocoon. Right now, more than ever before I feel ready to spread my wings. Yes, I’ve experienced my fair share of difficulties and setbacks, but I look back now and say ‘thank you Lord for the trials and for the setbacks.’ I can do that because I can look back and see God had his hand on me.”
But Deeper Life is not so much a departure for Natalie as it is a progression, and one that demonstrates that musically, as well as personally, Natalie has found her stride. The disc is full of radio-ready songs that are as smart as they are instantly hummable, showcasing Grant’s ever-expanding emotional and stylistic artistic palate. Unified by their strong pop sensibilities and stunning, cutting-edge production, these songs bring Natalie as close to pure R&B-tinged pop perfection as anyone will come this year.
“ I wanted something more organic this time around,” says Natalie, clearly beaming with satisfaction at the disc’s sound, “something that was soulful and radio-friendly without being radio-stupid. And so we relied far less on programming and much more on live musicians playing as a band. I’d like to think that this is the kind of record that a Sheryl Crow-Whitney Houston morph would produce.”
Grant’s description is an apt one—there are even moments that suggest the vein of pop song craft that Avril Livigne has mined of late—and much of the credit for this goes to Deeper Life’s who’s-who roster of all-star producers, including Tommy Sims (CeCe Winans, Bruce Springsteen), Eric Foster White (Whitney Houston, Jessica Simpson), Bryan Lenox (Michael W. Smith), Bernie Herms (Plus One), and newcomers Phill Symonds and Rob Graves—as well as Natalie herself, who for the first time co-produces several songs on the disc. The found the delicate balance between technical studio wizardry, solid song craft and a rawer, gutsy approach. Indeed, the performances on Deeper Life offer a dazzling, daring mix of production shimmer and emotional transparency.
But these exceptional performances do not arise from a vacuum; they flow directly from the quality of Natalie’s commitments and relationships. Indeed, Deeper Life is ultimately a collection of songs that reflect Natalie’s commitment—as an artist and as a woman—to mining the depths of her passions for family, her marriage, her friendships and her life in Christ.
“ Days Like These” is a danceable bit of pure, perfect positive pop that calls the listener to celebrate those rare moments of pure joy. So too the mid-tempo, club-beat grounded “No Sign,” a meditation that bathes in the insight that comes from coming out the other side of turmoil and discovering that endurance breeds grace and character. Both songs provide ample opportunity, at once, for dancing and reflection, and while unfalteringly upbeat, they remain inviting to those listeners who have yet to emerge from their own rainy days.
“ That’s When I’ll Give Up On Loving You” is a dance-pop declaration of unswerving, faithful love that is as thoughtful as it is infectiously giddy.
And set against the ever-increasing number of young pop stars lamenting their abusive family dynamics in their music, “Always Be Your Baby” is a plaintively gorgeous ballad that celebrates—at long last—an artist’s happily functional relationship with her father. (“I sent it to him for Father’s Day and he called me balling like a baby,” remembers Grant.)
But while the songs on Deeper Life are intentionally accessible to a broad audience, don’t expect Natalie to soft-pedal her faith in anyway. While Natalie has never been a belligerent, moralistic preacher or an advocate of the “muscular Christianity” that seeks to win the culture by drowning out other voices, she remains absolutely committed to an uncompromised Christian testimony in her music.
“ I can’t put on airs and be something I’m not,” says Grant. “I can only be myself, and sing about the things that matter most to me. Because of that I will always make music centered in my faith and love for God.”
For example, “Love Without Limits,” grounded in a latin-fired groove (a la recent Santana pop offerings) and with a rhythm guitar track that reaches back to Earth Wind and Fire, is a simple declaration of the inclusive nature of God’s love—with a melody that is as inviting as the message itself. There’s nothing over-bearing or preachy at work here, but rather an unapologetic declaration that “nothing can separate us from the love of God”
So too the title cut, an up-tempo anthem that in forthrightly showcases Natalie’s deep commitments, demands both dancing and reflection from the audience.
Perhaps most indicative of this commitment to artistic and personal generosity, however, is “I Will Be,” a song Natalie refers to as her “vision statement.” A declaration of Grant’s desire to simply and humbly serve her audience, it is suggestive of both St. Francis’ Prayer of Serenity and classic Quaker benedictions:
I will be a candle in the darkness
I will be the hand of heaven above
I will be a mirror that reflects Your endless love
I will be the hope among the hopeless
Where there is conflict I will be peace
Only by the power of Your Spirit that’s living in me
I will be…
“ It’s a statement of how I want my life to look to others,” says Grant. “I don’t want to just give people religion or some clever method of how to achieve personal peace. I don’t want to preach a list of “dos and don’ts.” I want to love and respect my audience and live my life in such a way that people will want what I have—a life-changing and vital relationship with Jesus.”
“ After all,” says the humble songstress, “the last thing the world needs is another diva.”