Natalie Howard

Natalie Howard

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If there's one thing listeners should have learned by now about country music, it's that you don't have to be American to sing it. Shania Twain, Kasey Chambers, and Keith Urban have all hit it big singing pop songs with slightly twanged vocals, steel guitars, and fiddles, and Aussie newcomer Natalie Howard takes the same approach with her U.S. self-titled debut. Besides her foreign passport, there's not much to distinguish Howard from the rest of the pop-country bunch, except perhaps the fact that Howard is decidedly more pop than country, and if it weren't for the pedal steel and the fiddle that make their way into some of the songs, that label would be all but indiscernible. Even the drawl that country music begs for can be confused with Howard's own Australian accent (although the decisively dialectically American "ain't" she occasionally throws in is most certainly not), and "I Can't" and "I Want to Get Out" are straight off an easy listening radio station, and are both pretty unremarkable. Like many albums in the genre, Natalie Howard has an extremely produced sound, which, unfortunately, coupled with clich├ęd lovesick and/or heartbroken lyrics, makes the album sound almost devoid of personality or interest. This is a pity, because Howard has an earnestness and sincerity in her voice that can't be created in the studio, and even if she sometimes seems like an overly dramatic teenage girl (in the breakup anthem "You Never Knew Me," for example), she has a few truly catchy hooks, and "Don't Be That Way Baby" could've come straight off a later Sheryl Crow album. Australia may be riding into Nashville, but if this is a sign of what's coming in, there's no real worry of a takeover yet.

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