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Journey Through 'Brand New Day': Exploring Natalie Gauci's Thirteen-Song Odyssey

REVIEW by Victor Stranges

The journey for Natalie Gauci famously began with a win on Australian Idol in 2007, a platform that often leads to a rollercoaster career path for its contestants. Moving beyond the prescribed path set by the franchise, this young, but not so compliant artist eventually emerged with one of 2021's standout neo-soul singles, 'Pictures Of Mars'. In a bold nod to David Bowie's 'Blackstar', she donned his iconic space suit in her music video, yet the song went largely unnoticed. Since then, the Melbourne-born chanteuse has regrouped with a compelling narrative to share, wearing her emotions on her sleeve like never before.
Natalie Gauci - 'Brand New Day' - Album 2024

The vinyl release of Natalie Gauci's latest album, 'Brand New Day,' features a four-page booklet meticulously chronicling the intimate narratives behind each track. Spanning themes ranging from existential quests to poignant reflections on mortality, the album delves deep into the universal human experiences of love, loss, despair, and hope, intricately weaving Gauci's personal stories into its lyrical tapestry.

 

The music was captured at the legendary Damien Gerard Studios on the Central Coast in New South Wales (Australia) and produced by Andrew Beck (Hoodoo Gurus, Paul Kelly, Kate Miller Heidke). Beck also played bass and Steve Kilbey (The Church) co-produced two tracks on the record. It's a who’s who of crack Australian musicians, with other contributions from Ashley Naylor (Even, The Church, The Stems) and Evan Mannell (Peter Garrett, Missy Higgins, The Teskey Brothers).


 

Gauci weighs in quite heavily on the recordings not only with vocal and executive producer duties, but playing piano, guitar, strings, Hammond Organ and Wurlitzer. In a recent Australian Musician interview, Gauci seems to have taken all her life experiences in her stride and documented it warts and all:

“The journey of writing these songs spans over 16 years. It begins with fame to drugs, to travel, to searching for identity and wondering why I wasn’t being heard. I now have a voice, and with this album, I’m giving listeners an opportunity to feel empowered… This is by far the strongest album I have ever made. It’s my truth, my story – which I feel many people will relate to. It’s about searching for love, faith and looking for hope.”
Natalie Gauci (interview with Australian Musician Magazine)

 

This is a band album. With a driving bass line, guitar, and floor tom, the album begins with purpose and without delay, summoning the attention of the listener. ‘Optical Illusion’ highlights the cautionary tale of falling for a man with a bad boy persona and a troubled past, advising against the swift emotional draw of these types of relationships.  

 

“Giving money to a crying boy
Ecstasy is not a broken toy
You’re on a fast train, honey
But it’s an optical illusion”

'Optical Illusion' 

‘Walk Ahead’ is a standout track, echoing ‘Make You Feel My Love’ by Bob Dylan with its simple chords and lyrical mastery. This is no mean feat and is a credit to a songwriter evidently entering into an evergreen period of her writing career. Delivered simply on piano with a poignant, soaring vocal, it’s the image left behind from her experience of breaking free from drug addiction and courageously embracing personal transformation.

 

Similar to Dylan's exploration on his 1980 album 'Slow Train Coming,' the song is a revelation stirred by divine inspiration. 'Walk Ahead' showcases lyrical and musical greatness, serving as a testament to Gauci as a bona fide writer in her own right. And what a thrill to hear the final chord with a style a la Flying Burrito Brothers.



Fame’ was the first radio song lifted from ‘Brand New Day’. The lyric describes life’s disappointment from the trappings that fame promises, and interestingly, coupled with a pop feel, but in a minor key. To this reviewer’s ears at least, there is something (yet again) Dylanesque with the litany of ailments and havoc detailed as if it were a shopping list, akin to Dylan’s ‘Broken’ from ‘Oh Mercy’ (1989). The way Gauci slurs the words, “fame got me wanting all the bad things” drives the message home in spades. In its finality, the experience of fame ends with a whimper and is left unresolved as if the author’s life is left hanging in the balance and at a crossroads, just like the song’s final chord.

 

‘Lay It Down’ is the distant cousin of Mike & The Mechanics’ song, ‘Living Years’, not so much in musical or lyrical terms, but in a broader thematic sense. It doesn’t focus on father-child relationships either. Instead, it confronts the reality of life while one is still alive, underscoring the importance of addressing it before it’s too late. The accompanying story booklet on the vinyl edition provides context, and with its rock vibe, one can envision its full impact in a live performance.



In addition to 'Lay It Down', Steve Kilbey co-produced 'Zero', characterised by its jangly guitars and infectious refrain “he could see my spiritual side… he could see my beautiful side”. Yet, romantic fortune eludes this author as “he takes me down, down, down… to zero”. The song, as with the album, underscores the hard-learned lesson of not casting pearls before swine.

 

‘How You Feel’ emerges as a harbinger of spring, marking the album's first distinct beacon of possibility. It’s a happy Natalie here that remembers the value of family and soaking in the fullness of great expectations. The infectious chorus underscores the sentiment along with a breezy, almost country music vibe. If there was a song on this album ripe for some joyful yodelling, this would be it. Jubilation radiates from every note, yet Gauci's restraint (from yodelling) demonstrates her refined musical sensibility.



Side two opens with the hook-laden song, ‘Smile’ which can have the side effect of rattling around one’s head for a while. The brighter side of love is poured out by a strumming acoustic guitar travelling along a familiar, yet fresh road that is uplifting. It just feels right.

 

In 'Disappear,' Gauci explores depths reminiscent of 'Walk Ahead', weaving raw emotions through dark, mysterious melodies. There is a musical pattern emerging in the verses that is simply drop-dead gorgeous. The haunting chord progression in the verses evokes a nostalgic elegance not dissimilar to a Carpenters style of songcraft. It’s a torch song that pauses in silence before Ashley Naylor's resonant slide guitar work sails off into a sunset of reverb. This payoff is unexpected and I am now intrigued about what Gauci is capable of in coming years.

Natalie Gauci

For a modern artist, it’s interesting how Gauci possesses a grasp of traditional songwriting, having obviously studied the greats. Case in point: the wonderful middle 8 section in ‘I Thought It Was You’ races in at just the right time, guiding the listener through the emotional journey of this mismatched romance alongside her. Nice work. The song’s crossover appeal explains why country radio has been quick to embrace this particular track.

 

“All the times you hurt me and with everything you put me through
Taking me for granted and not listening to my point of view
The perfect mistake
I thought it was you”

'I Thought It Was You'

 


In Greek philosophy, 'Eros' love embodies romantic and passionate affection, characterised by desire, attraction, and emotional longing. Yet in theological circles, 'Agape' love epitomises selflessness and altruism, prioritising the well-being and welfare of others. Throughout this record's exploration of fractured relationships, the recurring theme emerges that people inevitably disappoint. 'When I Want Your Love' stands out as a testament to firsthand experience of Agape love, rendering it a gospel song at its core.

 

The musicianship and arrangement expertly capture the song's confessional sentiment - from the tender opening piano to the plaintive vocals and harmonies. The transition into the chorus is marked by a musical deceleration, known in Italian musical theory as 'ritardando'. The soft brushes played on Evan Mannell’s snare drum and Ashley Naylor’s subtle guitar tremolo enhance Gauci's poignant composition, delivering a stirring rendition of her inspirational work.

Natalie Gauci

Ready to rock again with ‘Hold Your Hand’, this time with the help of disco vibes and some slap bass playing to boot. It’s like I have just stepped inside a dance club in 1977, but what would I know… I was only seven then. Evan Mannell’s snare drum is great with its lower tuning. It sounds like the dampening towel technique that Phil Spector had told Ringo to use has been employed. This moment on the record is perhaps Gauci's closest brush with cliché, but it feels so good and would, no doubt, sound great live. I hear a dance version on a ‘12” Single” beckoning.

 

According to the liner notes accompanying the vinyl album, Gauci describes 'We’ve Been Here Before' as the inevitable endpoint of a purely physical relationship, a predictable emptiness. As a vocalist, Gauci skilfully builds tension in her delivery leading up to the chorus, painting a vivid picture of the highs she yearns for in her romantic entanglements.

 

As we reach the album's conclusion with 'Brand New Day,' Gauci casts a small ray of hope at the end of a long dark tunnel marked by trials and trust issues. Yet, for Gauci, this track transcends mere symbolism. It serves as a revelation, a late-stage reflection on her journey, culminating in a profound realisation about making better choices. 'Brand New Day' radiates hope, signalling her awareness of new opportunities and fresh beginnings - a chance for a do-over.

Natalie Gauci 2024

 

What’s fascinating is that Natalie Gauci took the songs she wrote for ‘Brand New Day’ into the studio and enlisted the help of some of Australia’s finest musicians to help her paint the emotional picture of her journey. This time, she placed her trust wisely, allowing these collaborators to breathe life into her artistry.

 

“The experience of writing and arranging my own album with a world class team was mind blowing for me, because for the first time, I was able to be truly myself without any inhibitions to change anything about who I am as an artist.”
Natalie Gauci (interview with Australian Musician Magazine) 

All formats of ‘Brand New Day’ are available to buy (vinyl, compact disc and download) only from Bandcamp

Natalie Gauci Official...

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