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Wednesday, 29 July 2015 - 1:49pm

I might piss some people off by writing this, but you know what? Good. Because I'M pissed, and I have been for quite some time now. See, there is this stupid non-issue that people in my immediate circle keep making an issue, and each day that I hear the term “vocal fry” with its accompanying complaints, I want to run around in the streets screaming and pulling my hair out in the most annoying creaky voice I can muster.

Now, I realize that there are bigger problems in the world: dying children, climate change, rampant racism that still violently claims the lives of innocent people on the reg….all of those things are horrible, so why am I whining about how someone talks for frack’s sake? How does that matter AT ALL in the grand scheme of things? Well four people who read my blog, that is the point of this post: to explain why something so seemingly insignificant is indicative of a larger problem.

A little back story. Very little, I promise. First, I am a woman. Second, I use my voice for a living. End of back story. Now, those two things are seemingly inoffensive, yes? But put them together and suddenly, people become hyper-critical of really stupid things like vocal fry. Why? Well, maybe people want women to sound a certain way, to fit into yet another arbitrary gender norm. Or maybe some people really just don’t like to hear women speak at all. Maybe both! Who knows?? Let’s discuss, and hey! Let’s keep it fun by organizing the arguments in listicle form, eh? Hopefully that will keep the interest of my three blog readers (I’m sure I lost one with “I am a woman”).

1. WHAT IS VOCAL FRY?

Don’t try to skip this section thinking that you already know the answer to this question, because some people THINK they understand the concept when they really do not. Vocal fry (also referred to as creak or glottal fry) is a term used to explain the vibrating noises emitted when speaking or singing, usually when using a lower register. (more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_fry_register)

More often than not, when people complain about vocal fry, what they are actually complaining about is a speaking trend that is most common among young women that is a combination of forced vocal fry, stretching out words (especially at the end of phrases), and upspeak. Sometimes a little bit of a California accent is thrown in there as well. Most people use Kim Kardashian as their main example for this type of speaking. Kinda sounds like this: "She definitelyyyyyyyyy? talks like thiiiiiiiiiiiissss?" Add lots of glottal noises in those multiple y’s and i’s and you’ve got it, but just do an internet search for “Kim Kardashian vocal fry” if you want to hear exactly what I am referring to. People complain about this type of speech because they say it makes women sound dumb (more on that later). However, vocal fry is something separate from that combo of things (again, more on that later), and that is the specific type of speech I want to discuss.

2. IT'S A WOMAN PROBLEM.

THIS...is what makes me MAD. Very few people are complaining about the way MEN speak, and guess who are the biggest group of vocal fry perpetrators on the planet?? You guessed it! MEN!!!

Okay. Here is where I use an actual human man to make my point, and that human man happens to be someone I respect and love greatly: my father. Luckily, we’re family so he still has to love me. (Right…? RIGHT?!?)

My father, like me, is a voice actor. He has had a long, prosperous, well-regarded (even won some awards!) career. Dad is one of those male voice actors that can do that big, booming, announcer voice. He does other things too, but that is sort of his claim to fame. When he uses that big, booming, highly sellable voice, he uses a lot of, you guessed it, VOCAL. FRY. You can hear it in almost every recording he does. Want an example? Go here and listen to my very talented father kill these reads with his amazing but vocal fry-filled voice: http://www.patduke.com/m/narration.html

Wasn’t that a fun listen? But, ahem, back to ME, the woman in the family. When I use vocal fry, I get criticized for it. Now, to be fair, I rarely get this criticism from Dad, probably because the type of speech he actually dislikes is the Kim K combo style, which I do not do. I do not use upspeak, I do not stretch out my words, and I do not have a California accent. However, I HAVE ABSOLUTELY gotten a note from him before that a certain read contained “too much vocal fry”. That read happened to be for a show promo about murder, so yeah, I reached down into my lower register, unknowingly producing more vocal fry, in order to achieve a darker quality to my voice that I felt fit the script. Had a man given that read, no one would have even bothered to notice the vocal fry. So, in this particular case, yes, I affected my voice to have more fry, but my regular, everyday speaking voice does contain a hearty amount of natural vocal fry. As does Dad’s. However, when I brought this up (just this morning!), Dad claimed that his voice was just naturally that way. He referred to it as “whisky voice”. Eh….cute, but….no. His claim is that a certain type of lower raspy voice is different from vocal fry, which he says is an affectation. Which leads me to my next point….

3. IT'S AN AFFECTATION.

Sure, it can be. Just like speaking in a certain register can be an affectation, or NOT speaking creakily can be an affectation. I’m not unfamiliar with affectations, since obviously I have to affect my voice in all sorts of ways in my line of work. But just like a higher or lower register or an accent can be put on, some of those things are just the way people talk. Let me be more clear: the way PEOPLE talk. Not. Just. Men. Some women have natural vocal fry in their regular, everyday speaking voices (myself included). Some men do as well (my father included). Some men exaggerate it on occasion (my father included). Some women exaggerate it on occasion (myself included). Moving on.

4. VOCAL FRY GETS LUMPED IN WITH UPSPEAK.

The vocal fry debate is usually lumped in with another speaking phenomenon called upspeak. So much so that some people confuse the two. Upspeak is when people (again, read: not just women) end their sentences with an upward inflection as if they are asking a question when they are actually making a statement. Vocal fry and upspeak are two entirely different things, but they get lumped in together because they are two different vocal affectations that women (usually young women) get complaints about. Upspeak IS an affectation. It’s an affectation that can become a habit, and then it becomes just “how people speak”. The big difference between upspeak and vocal fry is that while men are the bigger perpetrators of vocal fry, women tend to be the ones using upspeak more often. The biggest complaint about the overuse of upspeak (and in turn, vocal fry, since they get lumped together) is….

5. IT MAKES YOU SOUND STUPID.

or unsure of yourself, which some people translate to mean you are dumb. Sigh…..but since upspeak and vocal fry get lumped in together (even though really, when you think about it, they are actually kind of the complete opposites of each other), the big complaint is that women sound stupid when they speak this way. So now, even self-proclaimed feminists are complaining about this. They’re saying, “Hey, women! You’re not dumb! Don’t talk like you are! Death to vocal fry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Okay. Nice thought. But did you ever think that maybe some women feel like they need to speak this way? That there are so many women out there that are taught that they shouldn’t worry about what’s in their brains as much as what’s in their bras? I know that I have definitely received the message that men are the ones to be heard, while women should keep their mouths shut and make babies and clean kitchens. Of course, I have rebelled against this for decades and choose to only surround myself with men (and women) who respect that I have a brain in my head and that goddammit, I’m gonna use it. So how about we change this convo to something more like….Hey, partriarchy! Maybe stop trying to convince women that their brains don’t matter and women won’t try to sound unintelligent!!

6. VOCAL FRY WILL HURT YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING WORK.

Doesn’t being a woman already hurt your chances of getting work? (HA! Too bitter?) Maybe it’s true that when women use the famous Kim K combo, some people may take them to be less capable, but I doubt that vocal fry alone has that much of an impact, and in my case, I would argue that it actually HELPS my career. This may be getting too far into my niche audience of female voice actors (am I down to 2 readers yet?), but hey, talented ladies, how many times have we seen “a little rasp” in our script specs lately? I see it all the time, and I don’t think it means “We really want someone who sounds like they’ve been smoking for 50 years.” It means they might like to hear a bit of vocal fry. I think the natural creak to my voice actually wins me jobs. Case in point, my most recent booking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQV-LJGEmqE
Hear that fry on the ends of my sentences? Well, guess what? Those weren’t the only reads I gave. I gave a variety of interpretations of that script, some with far less vocal fry than the reads they ended up choosing. The client WANTED that fry. They LIKED the fry. They put that fry on the air and paid me for it. Don't like it? Well then, I'm sorry it offends you. Oh wait, no I'm not. Not at all.

7. THE YOUNG VS OLD DEBATE.

I’ve read a lot of theories about how people over 40 are the ones annoyed by vocal fry, and that people under 40 find it inoffensive. I’d like to address this just because it is something I have seen used as an explanation for why the vocal fry debate exists, and I think it is skirting the real issue. It may be true that older people have a bigger problem with it than younger people do. Honestly, I have heard far more people over 40 than under 40 complain about it, and I am certain there is some validity to it. Of course, people get old and become out of touch with trends and love the good ole days and all that….right? No, not necessarily. That just generalizes another group. It turns a sexist issue into an ageist one. Some people over 40 will like younger speech patterns, most won’t notice, and some will complain. People under 40 will do the same. This is an irrelevant observation. (You’re welcome, Dad.)

8. IT'S HARD ON YOUR VOICE.

Eh. Nah, not really, yo. There is SOME evidence to suggest this but not that much. Really, it only hurts your voice if you do it for like, hours on end, and you're forcing it. If you have natural vocal fry in your voice, it's probably not doing much damage. If you force your voice into a lower register for an extended period of time, you can hurt it, sure. You can also hurt your voice by talking too loudly and/or whispering. But if you do those things too much, usually all you need is a little rest and TLC to get your voice back to normal. Obviously, I have dealt with this in my career, especially in audio books. If I have to do a male voice, I tend to use much more vocal fry, since I am pushing my voice down into the low end of my register. If I am reading a male part for hours, of course my voice will get tired, and I have to take a break. So if it starts to feel weird, I stop. Most non-voice actor peeps who use vocal fry in every day speak are not doing it NEARLY enough to cause any real damage. So get over it.

IN CONCLUSION....
You know what? There are lots of other things I could say about this, since it literally comes up every single day. But I'm tired of writing. Chalk it up to the laziness of youth, along with my lazy speech patterns. Nah, just kiddin! I'm almost 35, guys! That's not so young, is it?? Seriously, though, my eyes hurt, so I'm gonna wrap this up. Any questions? Comments? Throw 'em at me. PHEW! It feels so good to finally get all that out....

Additional reading/listening:

http://www.npr.org/2015/07/23/425608745/from-upspeak-to-vocal-fry-are-we...

http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/vocal-fry-99-percent-invisible-womens-vo...

Tuesday, 10 February 2015 - 2:48pm

Thank you for falling for my click bait. Now, here are a bunch of opinions that I believe should be documented as fact and entered in to the rock and roll hall of fame somehow. Preferably hand printed in gorgeous, swooping calligraphy on a scroll and encased in a giant glass box surrounded by velvet rope.

Kanye West is Kanye West. Does anyone not understand that Kanye West is Kanye West? Does his behavior shock anyone anymore? Well, if it does, it shouldn't. Get over it, people. Kanye West is never going to change.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about because you have been hiding from the internet for the past few days, here is a quick summary. Beck won Album of the Year for "Morning Phase" over Beyonce, who should have won (note: first fact disguised as opinion. There will be several more). While Beck was accepting his award, Kanye jumped up on stage. He didn't say anything, though Beck was amused by Kanye's presence (as he should have been. If I were in the middle of Kanye pulling a Kanye, I would be thrilled. It's hilarious.) and tried to get him to join him and say his thing. Kanye restrained himself, but explained later. Apparently, Kanye was pissed that Beck won, because he thought Beyonce should have won. (He was right. More fact disguised as opinion on that topic later.) He said something about how Beck needs to give his award to Beyonce and that Beck doesn't respect artistry. Not cool, Kanye. Still? Pretty hilarious. He also said some bullshit about how he didn't steal the mic from Beck because he didn't want to disrespect his daughter and/or his clothing line. See?? Hilarious!!

Beck's response was amazing. First of all, he said Kanye was RIGHT. That Beyonce SHOULD HAVE WON. Beck is so smart and so cool. I almost want to give him an award. Not for Album of the Year, but just for being awesome. He also said Kanye is a genius, and some other cool guy things. Look it up, I'm not a fucking news source.

Okay, so that's what happened. So why is this post called, "In Defense of Kanye"? Look dudes, I know he's an ass. Still? BECK SHOULD NOT HAVE WON THIS AWARD. Here are lots of facts to support that claim that may look like opinions. They're not! They're FACTS, people!

Firstly, the award was not for "Best Artist". The award was for "Album of the Year".

I have been a Beck fan for his entire career. I remember lying on my bed trying to transcribe the lyrics to "Soul Sucking Jerk" on Mellow Gold. That was about 20 years ago, and way before you could just google "soul sucking jerk lyrics" on the internet. I still listen to Midnight Vultures and Guero on a regular basis. Sea Change was released about a decade ago, and I remember being so grateful that Beck released something more emotionally charged, a darker, sadder album that resonated with me at the time.

Last year, he released Morning Phase, which he says is a companion piece to Sea Change. It's a good album. I personally do not love it, but as I stated in my original blog post with my predictions, I don't think the world needs another Sea Change. We got it anyway, and people like it. Cool. Beck is a great artist, and a great musician.

I have also been a fan of Beyonce for most of her career, mostly because I think that she is a great performer. I have never bought an album and listened to it on repeat, but I have enjoyed all of her hits, albeit mostly passively. There are a lot of songs that she has released that I really love.

But THIS album. THIS ONE. That she was nominated for? Remember? This is a phenomenal album. It is not like anything that Beyonce has done before. But not just Beyonce. ANYONE. She released a surprise record with fully produced videos for every song. NO ONE has EVER done that before. Beyond that, this album made a big impact in so many ways. This is a very feminist, sexually confident album that spoke to so many women. It broke the prior mold of Beyonce. She raps, she sings beautifully, she speaks openly about her sexual relationship with her husband, issues with monogamy, and even motherhood issues. This album is raw, emotional, completely unique. This album is groundbreaking. There are so many more things that I could say about it, but if you are a fan of the album, you know all of these things. If you are not, then you either haven't heard it, haven't heard it enough, you don't like the genre, or maybe you're just too uptight to handle the blatant sexuality of the album. Whatever.

Beck released a good album. Beyonce released a great album. Beyonce released the Album of the Year.

There are a lot of internet memes going around about how Beck is more of an artist. Pictures of Beyonce's list of songwriters to Beck's one songwriter: himself. The list of instruments that Beyonce plays vs. the number of instruments Beck plays. Aside from the fact that these memes are super judgmental and misleading, (Beyonce actually had a MUCH bigger hand in writing AND producing this album than the internet is giving her credit for, so all the bullshit about her not writing her own songs is just that. Bullshit.) they are also just completely inconsequential to the issue at hand. AGAIN. The debate is not Who is a Better Artist. The debate is Who Released the Album of the Year? And the factual answer to that, which may come across as opinion, is simple: BEYONCE. Beyonce released the Album of the Year *. Period.

So! Why didn't she win then? I mean, the people that vote for the GRAMMYs are the people who know the most about the music industry! Obviously they know what they're doing!! See: Macklemore winning Rap Album of the Year last year. FLAWLESS! (See what I did there?)

There are a lot of reasons why this could have happened. Here are some theories - all speculation.

1. Age. A lot of the voters are old white dudes.
2. Gender. A lot of the voters are old white DUDES.
3. Race. A lot of the voters are old WHITE dudes. (I mean, Macklemore over fucking KENDRICK LAMAR??? What is wrong with you people??)
4. The Split Vote. And you know what, I'm going to give the voters the benefit of the doubt and say that this is most likely the answer. A lot of Beyonce fans are also Pharrell fans are also Sam Smith fans. Shit, are also Ed Sheeran fans, honestly. (Though, come on. No way Ed Sheeran was gonna take that award home.) **

And there you have it. Kanye was right. He was also right about Taylor Swift and about George Bush not liking black people. Just admit it, people. Kanye is an ass hat, but he's not completely off base.

Now then! The rest of this post is where I boast about how good I am at predicting the GRAMMYs. Also, if you want to see who won stuff, here it is.

Record Of The Year

WINNER
Sam Smith -- "Stay With Me"
MY PREDICTION:
Sam Smith will probably take this, plus several more. As much as I hate to say it, T Swift SHOULD win. But the Sia song is my favorite one on this list.

Album Of The Year (Please refer to rant, above)

WINNER
Beck -- "Morning Phase"
MY PREDICTION:
Beyonce. Bow down, bitches. Bow, bow down, bitches.

Song Of The Year

WINNER
Sam Smith -- "Stay With Me" [Darkchild Version]
MY PREDICTION:
Sam Smith will probably run with this one, unless Hozier pulls a Gotye. Not likely. I kind of love that damn church song though.

Best New Artist

WINNER
Sam Smith
MY PREDICTION:
There's no way in hell they will pick HAIM for this. Sam Smith.

Best Pop Solo Performance

WINNER
Pharrell Williams -- "Happy"
MY PREDICTION:
I really think this is Sam Smith's year to sweep, although that Pharrell song was a hit across generations of music lovers.

Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance

WINNER
A Great Big World ft. Christina Aguilera -- "Say Something"
MY PREDICTION:
This is a tough one! Seriously! Katy Perry (barf) or Iggy will probably take it. "Bang Bang" is the most fun of all of these, and "Say Something" is the prettiest. Do I have to pick just one? Just don't give it to Coldplay, and we should be alright.

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album

WINNER
Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga -- "Cheek To Cheek"
MY PREDICTION:
This category is hilarious to me, mostly because Lady Gaga is part of it. I have no idea how this will go, and I do not really care.

Best Pop Vocal Album

WINNER
Sam Smith -- "In The Lonely Hour"
MY PREDICTION:
If we are speaking strictly in terms of pop vocals here (as we should be), then Ariana Grande or Sam Smith should win, as they are obviously the most talented vocalists in this category. Sam Smith will take it.

Best Dance/ Electronic Album

WINNER
Aphex Twin -- "Syro"
MY PREDICTION:
Aphex Twin or Deadmau5. I think Deadmau5 may take it, but Aphex Twin should. However, I like none of these. Sorry to all the Aphex Twin obsessed, it's just how I feel!

Best Rock Performance

WINNER
Jack White -- "Lazaretto"
MY PREDICTION:
I think this could go one of three ways. The Black Keys, Jack, or Arctic Monkeys. Beck got a lot of attention for his most recent album. He made lots of "Best of" lists for 2014. But in my opinion, we didn't need another Sea Change from Beck. Basically, if they decide to give this to Beck or Ryan Adams (oh how I hate Ryan Adams), then I give up.

Best Metal Performance

WINNER
Tenacious D -- "The Last In Line" It's hilarious that Grammy voters think Tenacious D is metal, but good for them.
MY PREDICTION:
No clue. Eh....Motorhead? So few voters will actually make an educated vote in this category. Tenacious D is my favorite of these, but I haven't heard anything since Kielbasa Sausage.

Best Rock Song

WINNER
Hayley Williams & Taylor York (songwriters) -- "Ain't It Fun" (Paramore)
MY PREDICTION:
It'll go to The Black Keys or Jack White. It should be The Black Keys. Sorry, Jack White obsessors.

Best Rock Album

WINNER
Beck -- "Morning Phase"
MY PREDICTION:
Black Keys.

**** The MOST IMPORTANT CATEGORY!!!! Best Alternative Music Album ****

WINNER
St. Vincent -- "St. Vincent"
MY PREDICTION:
I am really torn in this category. When I heard my BFF St. Vincent was nominated, I was sure she would take it. Now, looking at the other nominees, I am not so sure. She SHOULD win. No contest. The Arcade Fire album was meh, but they've won before. Jack White? Yeah, alright, you're prolific and interesting...but dude, you're no Annie Clark. If Alt-J or Cage the Elephant are even considered, then I suspect they've just started pulling names out of a hat.

My prediction: St. Vincent. I believe!!!

Best R&B Performance

WINNER
Beyoncé ft. Jay Z -- "Drunk in Love"
MY PREDICTION:
Give it to Beyonce.

Best R&B Song

WINNER
Shawn Carter, Rasool Diaz, Noel Fisher, Jerome Harmon, Beyoncé Knowles, Timothy Mosely, Andre Eric Proctor & Brian Soko (songwriters) -- "Drunk in Love" (Beyoncé ft. Jay Z)
MY PREDICTION:
Give it to Beyonce. She deserves 3 stacks.

Best Urban Contemporary Album

WINNER
Pharrell Williams -- "G I R L"
MY PREDICTION:
Urban Contemporary. Okay. For this euphemistic category, I pick Beyonce or Pharrell. Beyonce should win everything all the time.

Best R&B Album

WINNER
Toni Braxton & Babyface -- "Love, Marriage & Divorce"
MY PREDICTION:
I think it'll go to Toni Braxton & Babyface on name recognition alone, but Sharon Jones should win it.

Best Rap Performance

WINNER:
Kendrick Lamar -- "I"
MY PREDICTION:
Kendrick should win all the awards. Will he? I don't think he cares, but I do, dammit! Give it to him! PLEASE!!!!

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

WINNER:
Eminem ft. Rihanna -- "The Monster"
MY PREDICTION:
Eminem and Rihanna will probably nab this.

Best Rap Song

WINNER:
K.Duckworth & C. Smith (songwriters) -- "I" (Kendrick Lamar)
MY PREDICTION:
Please let Kendrick take this one. If only for the fact that he has the fewest number of writers (tied with Wiz).

Best Rap Album

WINNER:
Eminem -- "The Marshall Mathers LP2"
MY PREDICTION:
Granted, the noms may not be that amazing this year, but if Iggy takes this category after last year's Macklemore debacle, I may vomit in my mouth a bit. However....my prediction...Iggy will take it. I can feel the bile rising in my throat. If I am wrong, I will rejoice. Now excuse me while I listen to "Black Widow" on repeat while I run on the treadmill....

Best Country Solo Performance

WINNER:
Carrie Underwood -- "Something In the Water"
MY PREDICTION:
Carrie or Miranda.

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

WINNER
The Band Perry -- "Gentle On My Mind"
MY PREDICTION:
The Band Perry or Miranda/Carrie.

Best Country Song

WINNER:
Glen Campbell -- "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"
MY PREDICTION:
HA HA! No clue! I'll go with the only woman in the category, just because.

Best Country Album

WINNER:
Miranda Lambert -- "Platinum"
MY PREDICTION:
Let's just pretend that Miranda Lambert wins all of them and that I have some semblance of a clue what I'm talking about.

And that's it for this year's GRAMMYs! It's been fun, kids.

* I feel like I just need to clarify that Beyonce couldn't be on any Best of lists of 2014 because the album was technically released in 2013, too late for GRAMMY consideration last year, but in the game for this year. This only deserves a small footnote.

** I also think the split vote is why Beck won Best Rock Album. Too many people are Black Keys AND Jack White fans. Even though The Black Keys and Jack White hate each other. Funny, huh?

Sunday, 8 February 2015 - 2:06pm

I will not be watching the GRAMMYs live this year, because my sister has a show tonight, and I am basically an amazing sibling. Also, you should all go to my sister's show tonight. See? Now I'm even more amazing. But! I WILL blog about the Grammys as soon as I get the opportunity to see them and judge them. I'm very excited to get all judge-y. Til then, here are some of my predictions for the evening (though I really love judging the performances more than the actual awards).

Disclaimer: Yes, I am aware that the GRAMMYS are awful. That's why they're so fun to judge.

Here we go!!

Record Of The Year

Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX -- "Fancy"
Sia -- "Chandelier"
Sam Smith -- "Stay With Me"
Taylor Swift -- "Shake It Off"
Meghan Trainor -- "All About That Bass"

Sam Smith will probably take this, plus several more. As much as I hate to say it, T Swift SHOULD win. But the Sia song is my favorite one on this list.

Album Of The Year

Beck -- "Morning Phase"
Beyoncé -- "Beyoncé"
Ed Sheeran -- "X"
Sam Smith -- "In The Lonely Hour"
Pharrell Williams -- "Girl"

Beyonce. Bow down, bitches. Bow, bow down, bitches.

Song Of The Year

Meghan Trainor -- "All About That Bass"
Hozier -- "Take Me To Church"
Taylor Swift -- "Shake It Off"
Sia -- "Chandelier"
Sam Smith -- "Stay With Me" [Darkchild Version]

Sam Smith will probably run with this one, unless Hozier pulls a Gotye. Not likely. I kind of love that damn church song though.

Best New Artist

Iggy Azalea
Bastille
Brandy Clark
HAIM
Sam Smith

There's no way in hell they will pick HAIM for this. Sam Smith.

Best Pop Solo Performance

John Legend -- "All of Me" (live)
Sia -- "Chandelier"
Sam Smith -- "Stay With Me"
Taylor Swift -- "Shake It Off"
Pharrell Williams -- "Happy"

I really think this is Sam Smith's year to sweep, although that Pharrell song was a hit across generations of music lovers.

Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance

Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX -- "Fancy"
Coldplay -- "A Sky Full of Stars"
A Great Big World ft. Christina Aguilera -- "Say Something"
Ariana Grande, Jessie J & Nicki Minaj -- "Bang Bang"
Katy Perry ft. Juicy J -- "Dark Horse"

This is a tough one! Seriously! Katy Perry (barf) or Iggy will probably take it. "Bang Bang" is the most fun of all of these, and "Say Something" is the prettiest. Do I have to pick just one? Just don't give it to Coldplay, and we should be alright.

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album

Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga -- "Cheek To Cheek"
Annie Lennox -- "Nostalgia"
Barry Manilow -- "Night Songs"
Johnny Mathis -- "Sending You A Little Christmas"
Barbara Streisand w/ Various Artists -- "Partners"

This category is hilarious to me, mostly because Lady Gaga is part of it. I have no idea how this will go, and I do not really care.

Best Pop Vocal Album

Coldplay -- "Ghost Stories"
Miley Cyrus -- "Bangerz"
Ariana Grande -- "My Everything"
Katy Perry -- "Prism"
Ed Sheeran -- "X"
Sam Smith -- "In The Lonely Hour"

If we are speaking strictly in terms of pop vocals here (as we should be), then Ariana Grande or Sam Smith should win, as they are obviously the most talented vocalists in this category. Sam Smith will take it.

Best Dance/ Electronic Album

Aphex Twin -- "Syro"
Deadmaus -- "While (1<2)"
Little Dragon -- "Nabuma Rubberband"
Röyksopp & Robyn -- "Do It Again"
Mat Zo -- "Damage Control"

Aphex Twin or Deadmau5. I think Deadmau5 may take it, but Aphex Twin should. However, I like none of these. Sorry to all the Aphex Twin obsessed, it's just how I feel!

Best Rock Performance

Ryan Adams -- "Gimme Something Good"
Arctic Monkeys -- "Do I Wanna Know?"
Beck -- "Blue Moon"
The Black Keys -- "Fever"
Jack White -- "Lazaretto"

I think this could go one of three ways. The Black Keys, Jack, or Arctic Monkeys. Beck got a lot of attention for his most recent album. He made lots of "Best of" lists for 2014. But in my opinion, we didn't need another Sea Change from Beck. Basically, if they decide to give this to Beck or Ryan Adams (oh how I hate Ryan Adams), then I give up.

Best Metal Performance

Anthrax -- "Neon Knights"
Mastodon -- "High Road"
Mötorhead -- "Heartbreaker"
Slipknot -- "The Negative One"
Tenacious D -- "The Last In Line"

No clue. Eh....Motorhead? So few voters will actually make an educated vote in this category. Tenacious D is my favorite of these, but I haven't heard anything since Kielbasa Sausage.

Best Rock Song

Hayley Williams & Taylor York (songwriters) -- "Ain't It Fun" (Paramore)
Beck Hansen (songwriter) -- "Blue Moon" (Beck)
Dan Auerbach, Brian Burton & Patrick Carney (Songwriters) -- "Fever" (The Black Keys)
Ryan Adams (songwriter) -- "Gimme Something Good" (Ryan Adams)
Jack White II (songwriter) -- "Lazaretto" (Jack White)

It'll go to The Black Keys or Jack White. It should be The Black Keys. Sorry, Jack White obsessors.

Best Rock Album

Ryan Adams -- "Ryan Adams"
Beck -- "Morning Phase"
Black Keys -- "Turn Blue"
Tom Petty -- "Hypnotic Eye"
U2 -- "Songs of Innocence"

Black Keys.

**** The MOST IMPORTANT CATEGORY!!!! Best Alternative Music Album ****

Alt-J -- "This Is All Yours"
Arcade Fire -- "Reflektor"
Cage the Elephant -- "Melophobia"
St. Vincent -- "St. Vincent"
Jack White -- "Lazaretto"

I am really torn in this category. When I heard my BFF St. Vincent was nominated, I was sure she would take it. Now, looking at the other nominees, I am not so sure. She SHOULD win. No contest. The Arcade Fire album was meh, but they've won before. Jack White? Yeah, alright, you're prolific and interesting...but dude, you're no Annie Clark. If Alt-J or Cage the Elephant are even considered, then I suspect they've just started pulling names out of a hat.

My prediction: St. Vincent. I believe!!!

Best R&B Performance

Beyoncé ft. Jay Z -- "Drunk in Love"
Chris Brown ft. Usher & Rick Ross -- "New Flame"
Jennifer Hudson ft. R. Kelly --"It's Your World"
Ledisi -- "Like This"
Usher -- "Good Kisser"

Give it to Beyonce.

Best R&B Song

Shawn Carter, Rasool Diaz, Noel Fisher, Jerome Harmon, Beyoncé Knowles, Timothy Mosely, Andre Eric Proctor & Brian Soko (songwriters) -- "Drunk in Love" (Beyoncé ft. Jay Z)
Ronald "Flip" Colson, Warren "Oak" Felder, Usher Raymond IV, Jameel Roberts, Terry "Tru" Sneed & Andrew "Pop" Wansel (songwriters) -- "Good Kisser" (Usher)
Eric Bellinger, Chris Brown, James Chambers, Malissa Hunter, Justin Booth Johnson, Mark Pitts, Usher Raymond IV, William Roberts, Maurice "Verse" Simmonds & Keith Thomas (songwriters) -- "New Flame" (Chris Brown ft. Usher & Rick Ross)
Dominic Gordon, Brandon Hesson, William Roberts & Jamaica "Kahn-Cept" Smith (songwriters) -- "Options (Wolfjames Version)" (Luke James ft. Rick Ross)
Jhené Aiko Chilombo (songwriter) -- "The Worst" (Jhené Aiko)

Give it to Beyonce. She deserves 3 stacks.

Best Urban Contemporary Album

Jhené Aiko -- "Sail Out"
Beyoncé -- "Beyoncé"
Chris Brown -- "X"
Mali Music -- "Mali Is"
Pharrell Williams -- "G I R L"

Urban Contemporary. Okay. For this euphemistic category, I pick Beyonce or Pharrell. Beyonce should win everything all the time.

Best R&B Album

Bernhoft -- "Islander"
Aloe Blacc -- "Lift Your Spirit"
Toni Braxton & Babyface -- "Love, Marriage & Divorce"
Robert Glasper Experiment -- "Black Radio 2"
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings -- "Give The People What They Want"

I think it'll go to Toni Braxton & Babyface on name recognition alone, but Sharon Jones should win it.

Best Rap Performance

Childish Gambino -- "305"
Drake -- "0 to 100/ The Catch Up"
Eminem -- "Rap God"
Kendrick Lamar -- "I"
Lecrae -- "All I Need Is You"

Kendrick should win all the awards. Will he? I don't think he cares, but I do, dammit! Give it to him! PLEASE!!!!

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

Common Featuring Jhené Aiko -- "Black Majik"
Eminem ft. Rihanna -- "The Monster"
I Love Makonnen ft. Drake -- "Tuesday"
Schoolboy Q ft. BJ the Chicago Kid-- "Studio"
Kanye West & Charlie Wilson -- "Bound 2"

Eminem and Rihanna will probably nab this.

Best Rap Song

Ernest Clark, Jamal Jones, Onika Maraj, Marcos Palacios & J. Solone-Myvett (songwriters) -- "Anaconda" (Nikki Minaj)
Mike Dean, Malik Jones, Che Pope, Elon Rutberg, Sakiya Sandifer, John Stephens, Kanye West, Charlie Wilson & Cydel Young (songwriters) -- "Bound 2" (Kanye West & Charlie Wilson)
K.Duckworth & C. Smith (songwriters) -- "I" (Kendrick Lamar)
N. Fisher & C.Thomaz (songwriters) -- "We Dem Boyz" (Wiz Khalifa)
A. Feeney, Aubrey Graham, A. Hernandez, P. Jeffries, M. Samuels & Noah Shebib (songwriters) -- "O To 100/ The Catch Up" (Drake)

Please let Kendrick take this one. If only for the fact that he has the fewest number of writers (tied with Wiz).

Best Rap Album

Iggy Azalea -- "The New Classic"
Childish Gambino -- "Because the Internet"
Common -- "Nobody's Smiling"
Eminem -- "The Marshall Mathers LP2"
Oxymoron -- "Schoolboy Q"
Wiz Khalifa -- "Blacc Hollywood"

Granted, the noms may not be that amazing this year, but if Iggy takes this category after last year's Macklemore debacle, I may vomit in my mouth a bit. However....my prediction...Iggy will take it. I can feel the bile rising in my throat. If I am wrong, I will rejoice. Now excuse me while I listen to "Black Widow" on repeat while I run on the treadmill....

Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and throw my predictions out for the country categories, even though I hate pop country. Let's just see what my odds are.

Best Country Solo Performance

Eric Church -- "Give Me Back my Hometown"
Hunter Hayes -- "Invisible"
Miranda Lambert -- "Automatic"
Carrie Underwood -- "Something In the Water"
Keith Urban -- "Cop Car"

Carrie or Miranda.

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

The Band Perry -- "Gentle On My Mind"
Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood -- "Somethin' Bad"
Little Big Town -- "Day Drinking"
Tim McGraw ft. Faith Hill -- "Meanwhile Back At Mama's"
Keith Urban ft. Eric Church -- "Raise 'Em Up"

The Band Perry or Miranda/Carrie.

Best Country Song

Miranda Lambert "-- Automatic"
Kenny Chesney -- "American Kids"
Eric Church -- "Give Me Back My Hometown"
Glen Campbell -- "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"
Tim McGraw -- "Meanwhile Back At Mama's"

HA HA! No clue! I'll go with the only woman in the category, just because.

Best Country Album

Dierks Bentley -- "Riser"
Eric Church -- "The Outsiders"
Brandy Clark -- "12 Stories"
Miranda Lambert -- "Platinum"
Lee Ann Womack -- "The Way I'm Livin'"

Let's just pretend that Miranda Lambert wins all of them and that I have some semblance of a clue what I'm talking about.

Yes, I will blog my GRAMMYS experience. Very soon. I know you're all very excited.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 - 3:21pm

I’ve read a lot of reviews of the Grammys. All of them are different depending on who you are and where you are coming from. I have agreed with some parts of every review I’ve read, and disagreed with a lot of it. So now I give you the only review that actually matters and is 100% correct. Mine! What follows are FACTS, not opinions, people!

So I went over to my brother Ryan’s house to watch, since I don’t have cable. He and I and his girlfriend Suzy watched together while Noah was mostly bored (he did kind of like Imagine Dragons and Macklemore, even though he won’t admit it. It’s something Mom likes so it must be totally stupid). Let’s get the negatives out of the way first….

THE BAD

Taylor Swift:

Suzy: “I didn’t know she played piano.”

Me: “Well it’s not like she’s playing it that well.”

Which is exactly how I feel about everything she does. Suzy also coined the term “backwards head-banging” for whatever that weirdness was she was doing with her hair. Also, WHY does she feel the need to stand through the other performances and sing along, sometimes incorrectly, to everything? Just watch the show and have respect for your fellow performers. Annoying.

Hunter Hayes: Who? And...why? He was singing out of his neck the entire time, which Ryan pointed out. I kinda tried to stick up for him a bit, because I know that no performance can ever be perfect and that performing on the Grammys for the first time has to be intimidating (I would shit my pants.) but he was just not good. Not a great singer, not a great song. Forgettable.

NIN/QOTSA rock out: Admittedly, I missed this because I had to head home with the kiddo. I heard they got cut off and that Trent Reznor gave a big fuck you to the Grammy peeps. Well, what do you expect? Don’t cut off Trent Reznor!!

THE MEH

Beyonce and Jay-Z: I was not totally wowed by this performance, but I will never say a bad word about the royalty that is Bey and Z. Also, everyone now wants to be married to one or the other of them, or at least have their own less famous relationship be half as cool.

Ringo and Paul: I thought Paul’s performance was great. Fun, light-hearted, pretty entertaining. Very Paul. Kinda funny that Ringo wasn’t exactly the drummer in that performance...and Ringo’s solo singing thing...we coulda skipped that. Ryan chimed in with an old quote of Paul’s. Something like:

Interviewer: Paul, do you think Ringo is the best drummer in the world?

Paul: I don’t think Ringo is the best drummer in The Beatles. (I think this was said in jest, but it is APT.)

Pink and fun.: She’s done the acrobatic thing before...but it’s still cool. Impressive that she can still sing so well while she does all that stuff. She must do it on her tour (has anyone seen her on tour that can confirm this?) because she seems very well practiced. When fun. came in though...eh...it kinda ruined it for me. I’m actually more of a fun. fan than a Pink fan, but...doesn’t dude from fun. usually sound better when he sings? He was blowin’ it and she was killin’ it.

The country legends: I was admittedly not paying much attention during this performance (I was also doing laundry at the time. Multi-tasking!) but I liked what I did see and I think it’s a cool concept. I got respect.

THE GOOD

Lorde: If you know me, you know I’m a fan. Oh, you live on the Earth too? Cool. Then you should already know that, first of all, yeah, she is a WEIRDO. And damn if I don’t love her for it. I have to constantly remind myself that she is only 16 and has been performing live for less than a year. How was she not terrified? I kind of wish she would’ve done a different song, even though I understand and accept that everyone knows and loves ‘Royals’. Regardless, she did a good job with it. She’s definitely an original, that one.

Metallica and Lang Lang: ‘One’ is, of course, one of the greatest Metallica songs of all time. I do not totally understand why this song was played for the Lou Reed tribute, but regardless, it rocked. All of them sounded great. That song is 26 years old or something like that (Jeez, I guess that means I’m old) and they still sound amazing playing it. The first time I saw them perform that song live, I was 16 years old. I am 33. It sounded just as good but BETTER because, hello?? Lang Lang? Very cool addition. Loved it.

Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar: I think Imagine Dragons are one-hit-wonders, but damn if that isn’t a really good song. They rocked it out, and for once, I actually really liked the Grammy mash-up with Kendrick Lamar. I thought that was the most clever pairing of the night. Imagine Dragons may end up as one-hit-wonders, but Kendrick Lamar will be around for awhile and deserves more recognition than he received that night.

Sara Bareilles and Carole King: I think that Sara Bareilles is one of the strongest vocalists currently performing. The collaboration with Carole King was close to flawless (although Ryan did have to point out the ONE bad note Sara hit), unlike previous present/past pairings like, oh, I don’t know….Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks? FYI, Taylor Swift always makes my BAD list.

John Legend: I fall in love with him whenever I see him perform. Some critics have called this performance “boring” because it was just his voice and a piano. Who cares?? That’s all he needs! He can actually sing! And he doesn’t need fancy light shows and dancers when he exudes charm like that.

Kacey Musgraves: A lot of people have told me I would be a fan of hers if I checked her out, but I haven’t taken the time to do so because she is pop country and I have a terrible habit of writing off any new pop country as bad. I really liked her. Was her performance show stopping? No. But her lyrics were cool, original, quirky, and very progressive for country. She was adorable too. And her boots lit up! Funsies.

Daft Punk: Predictably amazing. Because Duh. Stevie Wonder? Dude. Double amazing.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: That was NOT predictable. I did NOT see that mass wedding coming (even though it had already been reported that they were going to do that. I guess I missed that memo). I wept. But I weep whenever I hear that damn ‘Same Love’ song. I think this was the highlight of the show….until Madonna limped out. Unnecessary and distracting.

...And here is where I talk about what everyone else is talking about: the controversy of Macklemore sweeping the hip hop categories. So, apparently some of the Grammy peeps were trying to keep him out of those categories (side note: Lorde was strategically kept out of the Best New Artist category as well. Score one more for Macklemore). I see why. I also see why that was overturned and he was allowed on the ballots. I also understand why he won. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t like Macklemore. I do. I like his hits. So does Noah. Is there a person in the world who doesn’t like the song ‘Thrift Shop’? I mean, come on. I do not necessarily like his entire album though, so I do not understand why the Heist won best Rap album. Because you know who actually released really great rap albums this year? All the other nominees in that category (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Drake). Apparently Macklemore texted Kendrick Lamar after the show, apologizing for “robbing him” of that award. Nice gesture. But why do we know about it? Because Macklemore posted a screen shot of the text on Instagram. Kendrick didn’t post it. Macklemore did. Hmmmmm…..I’m not impressed. I don’t care how pro-marriage equality you are (because you know who else is pro-marriage equality? All. The other. Nominees). What am I saying? Am I saying the Grammys are racist? Or that the world is racist? Hey man, I’m just talking about the music. Ahem, moving on…….

All in all, I thought it was a decent show. It’s never great anymore, but it wasn’t terrible. I’ll continue to watch it every single year, even if the artists I really love never win anything (I’m talking about the under-represented, way more talented, way more innovative, way more creative “independent” artists). That’s it! Oh, did I forget Katy Perry? Oh well…..

Friday, 23 August 2013 - 4:40pm

I haven't updated this since March?? BAD Natalie! Well I definitely have lots of things to say (what else is new?) so it's time for an update!

We just went on tour. Can you call it that if you only play in 2 cities? Who cares, that's what we're calling it.

Stop 1: St. Louis. First of all, mad props to Laura Lambert for letting us crash at her place and for making us a pot of her fabulous spaghetti and meatballs. So awesome.

With full bellies, we made our way down to CBGB for our show. We got to play a long set (about an hour and a half) and the audience was very receptive. We sold some CDs and we played pretty well, so we were feeling pretty good already, but let me mention a MUCH more important fact about the evening. CBGB paid our bar tab. There are 5 of us. And we are all DRUNKS. So I honestly think that, along with Lisa using her little Duke cuteness to fill the tip jar, that was the most we've ever made at a show. I will recommend CBGB to everyone I know and I will always stop by there if I'm in St. Louis. Even if they do have the weirdest ladies restroom in the country.

The whole reason why we got the booking in St. Louis was because of Matt and Ellen of Ellen the Felon. They set it all up for us and let us use their PA, so, hey guys, THANKS. That was really cool of you. You better be planning a trip to Chicago so we can return the favor. But more important than the booking help is how ridiculously talented these guys are. Ellen? Holy crap. If there was a gay switch I could flip somewhere in my body to take this incessant straightness out of me, you'd definitely be the first woman I would be all up on. You guys, her songs are the SHIT. She is clever, completely original, and just so freaking talented. Her CD is coming out soon. When it does, BUY IT. Check her out here: http://www.ellenthefelon.net/

Stop 2: Nashville. No, I do not gush about every band we play with, and if you know me well enough, you know this to be true (because sometimes I'm just flat out mean). But, but...every band we played with in Nashville was great. We played with Haunted Device, Meghan Saletta, and Rabbit in the Rye.

The only person in all the bands playing that I knew beforehand was Cory, one of the three C's of Haunted Device (Chris and Chad being the others). Fun fact! Cory was in my brother's first band back when they were in middle school. Isn't that adorable? Anyway! These guys have great chemistry and a cool sound and are just all around super nice guys. So hey. Check them out. http://haunteddevice.com/

Meghan Saletta is super cute, super sweet, and has a great voice and great songs. She's moving to Chicago soon and has already committed to playing my women's showcase, so...hey. Check her out. http://www.meghansalettamusic.com/

Rabbit in the Rye, three dudes on tour from New York, closed out the night and completely blew everyone away. All three of them are great players, for one. But also? They make pretty harmonies! I know this will be a shock to you all, but I am a sucker for tight harmonies. Their songs are great, their sound is unique, their show is tight. Oh yeah, and guess what else? The drummer, Brendan, also plays mandolin and seems to trade off lead vocals with the guitarist, Joseph. But sometimes Brendan plays drums AND mandolin AND sings ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I can hardly even play tambourine and sing at the same time, so yeah, I was impressed. Hey! Check them out! http://www.rabbitintherye.com

Shortly after we returned home, it just so happened that those guys were bringing their tour through Chicago, so we got to see them play another quick set at the Elbo Room open mic night, which, incidentally, is the best open mic in town, you guys. This night was no exception, and there was even a sort of second stage put together outside with a bunch of the night's performers sitting in a circle and playing and singing songs together on the sidewalk. It was a magical evening of music, my friends! I also unexpectedly ended up hosting the open mic because the regular host was sick or something. Did you know that you drink free if you host?? Yeah. That and my headache on Thursday is a whole other story, but the point is that it was a GREAT night.

That's all I have to say for now. Thank you for reading my long overdue blog post. I promise to not leave you alone for another 5 months. I'm sure I will have more things to say well before that. Like, maybe tomorrow. We do have another Elbo Room show tonight, and Sol is bartending, so you never know what the night may bring. If I know Sol, it will definitely involve shots of whiskey.

xo

Wednesday, 6 March 2013 - 1:54pm

He's all, "You need to update your blog!" and I'm all, "but I post everything on Facebook!" And he's all, "You're dumb!" and I'm all, "I hate you!" and then life goes on as usual.

So look, I guess there's some things happening, ya know? Like, my song, "Black Sheep" (also the title of my album available for purchase on itunes and Amazon, wink wink) just debuted on XRT's Local Anesthetic. For those of you who do not live in Chicago, XRT is THE radio station. So that's cool. I have also been added to the rotation at butterfliesradio.com, and they did a one hour artist feature on me. I'm really hitting the airplay thing lately, so hopefully there will be many more announcements such as those coming soon.

SHOWS! I have those coming up. Hey, you know what's super easy? Just click that "shows" link at the top of the page and you will see my show listing. The next step is to go to one of those shows. You wanna listen to the Local Anesthetic broadcast? Then it be this link you want: http://wxrt.cbslocal.com/2013/03/05/local-anesthetic-playlist-for-march-...

Thursday, 29 November 2012 - 12:34pm

How many people are lucky enough to say they have 2 hometowns? Well, I know one of them, and that person claims 2 of the coolest cities in the world, Chicago and Nashville.

I'm talking about myself...did you catch that? Yeah, I'm one of those lucky people. Last week, I got to take myself and my band down to Nashville for a show at The Basement. For those of you who do not hail from Music City USA (and maybe a few who do), The Basement is the venue below Grimey's Records, which is the most amazing record store on the planet. Am I biased? Okay, maybe, but it really is nationally recognized as one of the coolest places for music lovers. When I lived in Nashville, I made weekly pilgrimages to Grimey's - to buy music, of course, but also to hear great live music, to snag tickets to a sold out show (because, many people don't know this, but Grimey's usually buys up a batch of tickets to all the cool shows coming through, and then sells them for face value out of the store. Occasionally, if you're reeeeeeeeeeally lucky, they still have a few left when the box offices and the internets are plum out. Cash only though!), or to be the first of my friends to say they snagged the freshly released copy of so and so's new album at midnight on new release Tuesdays. I still wear my Grimey's t-shirt with pride and scoff and eye roll like an annoying hipster when people ask me what my t-shirt means.

Needless to say, as one of my favorite places in Nashville, I was really excited to play there. What I did not necessarily expect was impeccable sound, super talented bands to share a stage with, and an amazing turn-out. We kind of packed the place! Um, THANKS, Nashville!! Honestly, that was the biggest show we've played so far. Even our CD release show wasn't as packed. Don't get me wrong, Chicago, you turn out pretty regularly, and I am eternally grateful for that. I'm just saying that I may need to plan more shows in Nashville. It was a really, really great night. It also didn't hurt that we got to grab post show beers at The Villager, where we cheerily threw some darts and Jack dubbed me "Bulls Eye Duke".

So hey. Nashville. Thank you. Sincerely. I mean this from the bottom of my heart and I feel it with fervor....I love you.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012 - 10:30am

A few months ago, the lovely and talented Adrienne Thomas wrote up a lovely review of one of my shows. I was just re-reading it and decided to share. you can check out a bunch of other fabulous reviews by Adrienne at http://nosferatune.wordpress.com/, and you can find the original version of this review at http://nosferatune.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/natalie-duke/

NATALIE DUKE
Posted by balavance on July 7, 2012

“If the music stopped, so would I. I would not die but surely I would not be alive.” -“Alive”

Natalie Duke took the stage at Davenport’s Piano Bar- just in the heart of Chicago’s Wicker Park- this past Wednesday, June 20th. The second of 4 summer feature performances, the show was intimate and fully showcased the incredibly talented Nashville-born writer/performer. The stage was low and the setup was simple, even more so after sharing that her guitar’s electric hookup had broken before the show began. The set proceeded acoustically and confidently though, and no malfunction was felt.

Natalie Duke is certainly a diamond in our sandy Chicago ruff. She brings jazz into the modern female indie-scene, with a twist of cabaret and variety spanning decades of genres. She flaunts an attitude in her music that’s hidden beneath her big eyes and draped bangs- so don’t mistake her spoken sweetness for vulnerability. Instead we’ll admire her grace as she entertains us with humorous, inspired songs.

She opened with “I Feel it All” by Feist, introducing her fellow performers on maracas, guitar, piano and backup vocals. These two vocalists mostly harmonized like The Supremes, but they also surprised us with rapping solos alongside Duke’s minor-key bass lines in “Poison.” Lights dimmed for Duke next song, a cover of Adele’s “Melt My Heart to Stone.” This rendition was scattered with sexy falsetto breaks, well chosen for Duke’s vocal abilities.

With the fourth song, Duke returned to an original. Piano introduced “Come Down,” a song flooding with back up vocal harmonies that accompany her seductively pitched verses. Immediately following was another original tune entitled “Stand.” Duke begins to refine her sound with these two songs; both showcase her vocal individuality and are extremely well-composed, while still avoiding any prototype for the ‘indie female’ singer’s ballad.

“At Last” by Etta James allowed Duke to strut what is now clear to be her alto forte. Another well-executed cover was Kate Nash’s “Dickhead,” an apathetically clever ode to, well… that dickhead man you know so well. Declaring then a song about her dickhead, Duke rolled out an original entitled “Gift.” Passive and hysterically awesome (says one audience member) this ironically perky track is a climactic catch, I quote, “…you inconsiderate, insignificant, preachy hypocrite, jealous robotic… I give you this song, my gift to you my love!”

It was about halfway through the set that Duke brought out her recently acquired looping machine. She covered Rhianna’s “What’s My Name” and Gotye & Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” She creates a one woman show while strutting her timing and loop-tech skills by building layers, singing against her own harmonies and breaking the layers down again. Kimbra would be proud.

By the end of the show it became apparent that Natalie’s original songs succeeded the quality of her covers. Although fresh to our ears, they are catchy and creative. Many can be found on her website but I’d better suggest a trip to one of her upcoming Davenport’s shows (7/25, 7/28), where Duke and her flirtatious red guitar can serenade you with a healthy dose of fresh female sounds.

Saturday, 8 September 2012 - 11:39am

This past week, I got to perform two shows. I usually don't even get to perform twice in one month, so it was pretty exciting for me. Maybe one day, I'll open with "Yesterday, I got to perform two shows." Won't that be nice? Alright, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Tuesday, September 4th: Have you guys checked out The Fruit Flies yet? If not, you really, really should. They are adorable and talented and hilarious. And they're my friends! Even better. So they kindly asked me to open for them for their show at Stage 773.

First of all, I hadn't even been to Stage 773 yet, let alone performed there, and it is just so lovely. You should go to a show there. Sweet - venue plug nailed. So my set on Tuesday was fairly subdued and short. It was just me and Jack up there, and we only played for a half an hour while The Fruit Flies' audience got warmed up with a couple cocktails. I just have to say though, my favorite part of our set was when I surprised my sister, Lisa (who wasn't supposed to make it to the show, but sneaked in a little bit after we started) by asking her to come up on stage and sing a couple songs with us. Yes, Lisa, I realize that when someone on a stage asks you to join them on that stage that you kind of look like an asshole if you say no. HA! I trapped you! So she reluctantly joined us, completely unprepared and embarrassed, and it was awesome.

In all seriousness though, I was glad she was there. She adds a lot to the songs when she's up there. But it was The Fruit Flies' show, and I was very excited to be able to see them play a nice long set. Their songs are very well-written and fun, and their voices compliment each other very well in sometimes simple, sometimes not-so-simple harmony. Molly McCormick plays guitar and piano while Danni Parpan entertains with a ukelele and (for her first time live) a drum set. I can't express enough how much I love their songs and how talented I think they are, but I must say, the best part about their show is their stage banter. I'm pretty sure I laughed loudly in between every single song. That's half of the show right there. Seriously. They're freakin' funny is what I'm trying to say, people. Go to a show. Also, (Bonus!) it was their CD release show. Every single CD had an original hand made cover designed by a Fruit Fly or a Fruit Fly's significant other. They were all very creative, cool and fun, just like The Fruit Flies themselves.

Thursday, September 6th: My final show at Davenport's. Sigh. It's been such a nice run. The crowd was lighter than usual (I mean, I was competing against the POTUS, y'all) which was A-OK with me because I considered Thursday night's show to be kind of an experiment. I had this wacky idea to attempt most of the show solo. That means I decided to play the guitar a lot more than I usually do. Terrifying. I am not particularly good at playing guitar because I have this malfunction in my brain that makes me never ever practice. Ever. Eh....I taught myself enough to write songs and half-heartedly accompany myself in my bedroom, and why practice when you can just get someone else to play with you live? Like Jack! Works out great! So why did I even want to try this experiment? Well, when I do play the guitar and sing, especially the more intimate, emotional songs, I tend to connect more. I get to be in charge - 100%, and that inevitably lets me milk the shit out of the songs (like a Duke!). And I do. And I did. But I am definitely not happy with how my guitar playing went that night. Lesson? Suck it up and practice like every other musician in the world. Overall though, it was a pretty good show. Having a smaller audience made it much more intimate and fun. Thanks to all of you who came out.

And Now Some Other Things: Speaking of The Fruit Flies, Molly McCormick will officially be joining The Reckless Revival for our next show, which is September 28th at the Red Line Tap. We play at 8:30 and it's just 5 bucks. Mark your calendars!!! I'm also, if you don't know by now, planning on releasing my debut album very, very soon. As I get the final tracks finished, I promise I will share them. The next one I will share is "The Prince", so keep a look out for that. The CD release party will be October 24th at Underground Wonderbar. The fun starts at 8. Mark your calendars again!!! And of course, I'm going to throw in a link to my *KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN!* Yes, essentially, I am a beggar. But there are rewards and stuff! Just check it out for me, k? I will return soon with more news but until then, if you haven't already, why don't you give a "like" to my Facebook page and to The Fruit Flies Facebook page? Love. Love. Love. Natalie

Monday, 3 September 2012 - 8:08pm

I am one of the most sentimental people to ever walk the planet. Why would I, of all people, not be keeping a detailed log of every success, failure, emotion and heartbreak of this journey? Well now that I've figured this out, I'm going to start writing about it. Like, all the time. Here we go.

I'm doing this pretty cool thing in my life right now. The way most people see it, I'm making music and performing it. I'm a musician. Lots of people do it. Big freakin' deal, Natalie. You're not the second coming of Christ. Or John Lennon, who, along with three other musicians, is apparently bigger than Jesus. Yeah, okay, I know.

But, surprise! I think it's different. Wanna know why? I guess you do if you're still reading. Well, look. I have always written songs. I wrote my first song at 8 years old. It was called "I'm Grounded." Probably because I usually was. Grounded. I wrote horribly depressing and self indulgent songs through my embarrassing teenage angst years. I wrote even more depressing Lilith Fair type songs about heartbreak in my early twenties, before I realized that I should probably steer clear of the 21 year old pot heads who would break an anniversary dinner with you just to make it to their 87th Phish show (even just to hang out in "the lot" selling the famous Garlic Grilled Cheese, a hippie delicacy consisting of kraft singles and garlic salt).

But the inspiration for these songs is of little consequence, because no one heard these songs. In fact, no one even heard me sing for well over a decade. I've been singing since I was 2 years old, copying melodic a cappella phrases that my parents would challenge me to mimic from my car seat, the two of them soaking up my sheer elation in the rearview mirror. I even sang professionally for a stint as a child.

Something happened. Something made me stop. I mean, I never stopped singing. I never stopped writing. But I stopped doing these things in front of people. Friends, boyfriends, teachers, didn't even know I could do these things. I developed this irrational fear of performing, and the longer I held that fear, the greater it became. The thought of singing in front of people was literally the most terrifying thing in the world to me. So why should the people in my life even know that I had this ability? Then they'd just want proof. Better to keep it to myself. It became like this weird, demented, secret gift I carried within me. I knew it was there, and I would let it out, but only for myself to see. As I grew up, I taught myself how to sing in different ways. I discovered my chest voice, and then I learned how to mix my chest and head voice. I learned how to use vibrato in the right way. I practiced all of the calculated runs on 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' until I was sure I didn't miss any of the notes. I developed my own way of singing that I felt conveyed my most intimate feelings far more personally than anything I ever spoke. This, of course, just inflated my irrational fear.

Then one day, my dad let it slip to one of my friends, a fabulous musician that I still have an immense respect for to this day, that I sing. And of course, since my dad is my dad, when he found out that this particular friend didn't even know about this part of me, he started gushing compliments about my former, less fearful self as my face turned a glorious shade of crimson and I tried to change the subject. Later, that friend asked me if what my dad said was true. Embarrassed, I stammered around an answer. My friend said something then that I will not ever forget. He said, "Natalie, if you have a talent like that and you don't take advantage of it, then that's just stupid."

Simple. Yeah, he was kind of being an ass. But I ruminated on that for a long time. I mean, a really, really long time. I played that conversation over and over again in my head. That seems crazy, I know, but you know what was more crazy? My completely ridiculous irrational fear of singing in front of any human being ever. Come on. Get a grip, Duke. That one sentence that my friend innocently muttered after a couple beers could have been taken any number of ways. To me though, that one simple statement encapsulated all of my fears, desires, dreams and passions. For as long as I can remember, all I've wanted to do, all I've truly loved; unconditionally, undyingly, truly loved is MUSIC. What kind of an idiot would I be if I denied myself a life FILLED with it?

I know I am not alone in this, as I've said. Plenty of other people love music. Plenty of other people feel it like I do, like it's what they are meant to do, who they are meant to be. Most of them just aren't masochistic enough to deny themselves that which they feel is the biggest part of who they are. And the ones that are, well, they probably don't have my friend there to tell them what an idiot they're being.

It's interesting that this blog post has ended up being what it is. Initially, I sat down to tell you about past shows and to vow that I will post more about future shows and other fun things happening in my musical life, and that I will try my best not to bore you with things only I think are interesting. It's possible that is exactly what I have done here, and if that is your perception then I apologize. I felt that this was a more important story to tell. Maybe more so for myself than for my readers.

So thank you, friends and family. Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, thanks for coming to my shows, and most importantly...thanks for telling me when I'm being stupid.