When I first heard Natalie Royal in August 2008, the Charlotte native was a 17-year-old high-school student who was shining brightly at an Evening Muse performance. Her voice had control and range, and her lyrics showed maturity not often found in teenagers. Fast-forward four years and Royal is releasing her second album, Savor, which proves her abilities have strengthened beyond any previous expectations. Studying songwriting at Belmont University seems to have served her well.
The 12-song album kicks off with "Bonnie and Clyde," an upbeat, jazzy tune that tells the romantic side of the real-life crime partners' story. "We'll start with petty theft of things that people left. Oh baby, after all this we'll be set," Royal sings. "Black Swan," written after seeing the Oscar-winning movie of the same name, offers advice to a ballerina who is trying too hard to be perfect and working herself into the ground. Royal's advice is set against a sparse acoustic backdrop while a cello's elongated notes help set a somber mood.
The album's title track is a tribute to her father who died of a heart attack at a young age. The song, which won Royal an ASCAP songwriting scholarship, is presented in an unhurried style which oozes heartache and healing. She sings, "You lived life slow/ for how fast you did go/ to that place that he made in the sky ... Please, wait patiently/ I won't rush/ but we must reunite."
Royal's talent is not only in her words and vocals, but also in her instrumental abilities. Her finger-picking style creates a soothing and delicate acoustic backdrop. Throughout the album, other musicians help thicken the music without overwhelming the songs — agile cello strums bring a sense of urgency to "Regret." Folk singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen these days, but Royal's abilities in every facet — lyrics, songwriting, vocals, instrumentation — combine to help anchor her own identity among the masses.
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