It's a recent Tuesday in May and I'm sitting at a front table at The Living Room for John Platt's On Your Radar Series. Natalia forsook the classical arena to become, among other things, a slide guitarist in the folk realm. In some photographs, with her hair pinned up, her long features and her high forehead, she reminds me of a ballet dancer.
I'm suddenly desperate to say hello, to meet her and tell her how smitten I am with her music.
The monster chops she shows on guitar are a result of an upbringing that was sewn into her DNA at an early age.
She had learned a little guitar when she was a grade school student at Bank Street School, where she sang songs by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Harry Chapin. Although forced to study violin from age 5 to 13, she sees it as having been inspirational, rather than burdensome. She was completely immersed in the life -- "That's what you do -- you wake up in the morning, you have a cup of coffee and you play your instrument.
She bought her first good guitar, made by James Goodall in 1998, which she says she felt unworthy of. Natalia was fortunate to be able to go directly from open mics and playing at friends' gigs, -- no extensive performing experience-- to going into the recording studio.
When Natalia began to play slide guitar, she attended the Ali Akbar College of Music in Marin, California, founded by Ali Akbar Khan, master Indian sarod player, for one semester. She had the opportunity to open for Kelly Joe Phelps a number of times when he still played slide and learned more. However, before I noticed the similarity, what jumped to the fore was the crisp smoothness of the delivery. Had I done a bit more research before listening to her music, I might not have been so surprised at her literacy. While the poetry of Natalia's lyrics might be a tad obscure, as good poetry often is, there's no mistaking the weight of their meaning.


In "The Last Few Miles, we follow the protagonist, approaching her lover's house by car and listen to her tell us about the small minutes that fall into place as we move from moment to moment, on our way to life's next chapter. As she ponders the way family myth and fact live side by side in her perceptions (and ours), we can feel the way she is turning over the unfolding of events and the impending sense of loss. Natalia was fortunate to be able to go directly from open mics and playing at friends' gigs, -- no extensive performing experience--A  to going into the recording studio. According to experts, single women looking for a happy, secure boyfriend should look for a man with a sister or sisters. Pro Tip: When surprising your son or daughter at college, make sure you know their correct dorm room number.
As she continues to sit, still smiling, through the next half hour of the show, in the half-light from the stage, she's intensely radiant. Suddenly, before the last few songs, she bolts for the exit, needing to be somewhere else on short notice.
Initially, we discuss how hard it is to excel as a writer on a steady basis and I mention Steve Earle as an exceptionally steady writer and she agrees.
She gave up any idea of playing guitar because she felt that studying violin was expected of her.
When she did pick it up again, around 1998, she tuned it to an open tuning -- open D -- for the first time.
She started listening to slide players from Mississippi Fred McDowell, all the way up to Bonnie Raitt. The picking is very clean and the slide work is some of the most satisfying that I've ever heard.
Life's page is turning and we'll savor the sound of wind in the trees as they sigh outside the car window.
It's a scary fact that she's still growing, still changing, digging deeper, looking for more ways to express her roiling emotions.There is so much beauty here, it's almost excruciating. What was lacking for me was the spiritual, which I didn't find in that kind of music and still don't.


When she did pick it up again, around 1998,A  she tuned it to an open tuning -- open D -- for the first time.
We digress over Steve's son Justin's recent rise after succumbing to some of his father's bad habits. My guitar teacher was a total hippie, We'd do a little classical and then he'd help me to learn songs by people like Cat Stevens and Susanne Vega. Natalia found videos unhelpful, and just kept experimenting and figuring out things on her own. Then, to learn some jazz chords, I got a fake book and took a few lessons from [jazz guitarist] Mary Halverson.
Her mother is flutist, journalist, novelist and CBS Television music correspondent, Eugenia Zukerman. Early on, briefly, I struggled to decide which is more prevalent in her musica€¦ strength, or grace? Before she could quit, her mother told her she had to learn a standard set of music -- which included Mozart, Beethoven and Bach that she hadn't studied yet, before she committed to leaving violin study. This album, with every track recorded in one take, with no overdubs, shows off Natalia's guitar work in all its nimbleness and raw power. Also when she stated playing out, she played gigs with Nadine Goellner (a favorite of WFUV-FM DJ John Platt), and they learned a lot of jazz standards together so they could get restaurant gigs. Her exceptional guitar chops extend over a wide range of styles and her writing has been the most delightful surprise.



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