From the opening “Lovers”, Natalie is in a jazzy mood. With its silhouette cover reminiscent of some of the classic jazz album art of the 1960s, THANKFUL celebrates the maturation of a promising talent. Natalie is also in a bluesy mood as she demonstrates that she has progressed into a fine songwriter. There is a definite maturity that enveloped this project. This album, clocking in at less than 35 minutes, has many colors, shades and moods. “Lovers” could have easily been on one of her father’s albums; even though, at the time, she felt reluctant to cover any of his music directly. It starts with a nice, joyous tempo and continues to a rollicking ending. There’s a little of the “Mr. Melody” flavor along with some straight-up scatting. Written by the dynamic team of Cole, Yancy and Jackson, it shows the trio in complete harmonic balance. It was clear that soul/jazz/pop had become Natalie’s signature.
“Our Love” follows as her next #1 R&B single which also hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was a graceful testimony that found Natalie in a very romantic mood. Only married for a few years, it is possible she was experiencing the bliss of matrimony while motherhood would be forthcoming. Again, with just a piano and that beautiful voice, “Our Love” would garner Natalie another Grammy nod. It would be the last time though that she would hit the Hot 100 for almost a decade. The song itself was simple and direct. From the writing and producing team of Yancy and Jackson, it had a certain classic feel to it. You could have mistakenly thought you knew the song. Its chords and lyrics had that kind of familiar warmth to it.
The next track, “La Costa”, transports you to a rainy, late afternoon on Avenida Atlantica in Rio De Janeiro. When I think of the artwork on THANKFUL, it is this song that comes to mind most often. It is done in the bossa nova style that had become immensely popular in Brazil in the 1960s. She literally invites you on a journey of peace and tranquility surrounded by the natural beauty of the ocean with waves caressing the seashore. Like “Our Love”, it has a very familiar feel to it sounding like it comes from the Antonio Carlos Jobim songbook. But it doesn’t, it comes from Natalie’s pen with an assist from Linda Williams, one of her band members. “La Costa” effortlessly blends jazz with soul and pop and is surely another feather in Natalie’s cap of accomplishments.
If the first half of THANKFUL has a jazzy feel, the second half is dominated by more bluesy pop that is captured no better than in the two songs that Natalie pens alone, “Annie Mae” and “Keeping A Light”.
“Annie Mae” was another Top 10 R&B hit for her, reaching #6. It was reportedly an accompaniment to The Whispers’ “Olivia (Lost and Turned Out)”. Natalie tells a compelling story of a young girl that gets in over her head in a vicious world. Though it wouldn’t cross over to pop radio, it was warmly embraced by her R&B audience.
Like “Annie Mae”, the final song, “Keeping A Light”, is a favorite. Around this time, Natalie was becoming a first-time mother dealing with the fast-paced entertainment world that would soon derail her from a stellar record of 5 gold and/or platinum records in a row. She would later state in her autobiography that she and then-husband Marvin Yancy were living a very hectic Hollywood life fueled by the destruction that substance abuse often brings. On “Keeping A Light”, she tells the story of a lover lost in the wilderness of the night, possibly unable to find their way home in the light of day. By 1977, Natalie had settled into the role of the new powerhouse voice on the scene. She had been compared to Aretha early on but she soon found her own voice. On “Keeping A Light”, she sprinkles a little bluesy pop with flourishes of subtle gospel touches.
The album ends on what could be considered its finest moments. As a gifted songwriter, Natalie aptly tells the story of a young soul lost in “Annie Mae” and that same soul’s loved one waiting patiently in “Keeping A Light”, in hopes that they find their way home. It would prove to be prophetic in some ways. But for the moment, it celebrates a talent maturing to the next level of her artistry.
About the Writer
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry.