I had the opportunity to see Natalie Mae open for Valerie June at the Circle Bar recently; two talented women with distinct styles paired in powerful concert for an extremely packed house. The Valerie June Pushing Against Stone Southern leg finished up on Sunday the 14th, but the folksy jams from the New Orleans show have certainly stuck in my head. I sat down and talked music with John Thompson of Total Riot Records, the label on which Natalie Mae is signed.
WYAT: What is your position at Total Riot?
John Thompson: "I founded Total Riot, but I am by no means the leader or the boss. I simply use Total Riot as a hub to connect local bands in a network. These days musicians are multi-talented and wear many different hats. I simply try to help musicians pool together their skills and resources. For example, Jason Kareores is in charge of booking at Total Riot and is also the guitar player of Strange Roux. He is pivotal to the success of Total Riot and a great team player."
WYAT: Natalie Mae seems to have a great following. Pairing her with Valerie June was perfection, as their sounds are similar. How were you able to connect with Valerie June and set up this particular show?
JT: "Natalie Mae is a brilliant songwriter, has a beautiful voice and has some of the best musicians in town in her band. Michael Lentz plays guitar. He lays down some pretty sweet solos. He owns this Fender Jazzmaster that he bought in Germany. It's a wonderful instrument. Josh Wexler is the keyboard player. He switches between piano and organ tones. Wex is one of the most interesting people I know. I really respect and admire him. He plays the hell out of the blues, too. Pat Fee is the drummer. He is one of the nicest musicians you'll find; very sincere. He plays with passion and knows exactly how to compliment the song. The bassist is Ted Long. He's been playing professionally around town for 4 years with acts Irma Thomas, Lynn Drury, and his own trio, the Ted Long trio (every Friday night at the Columns). The whole band as a rhythm section is rock solid.
The pairing of Natalie Mae with Valerie June was all Jason Songe. He is the talent buyer at Circle Bar. He is experienced with the scene. He knows what he likes and what works."
WYAT: What venues in town does your label-signed talent normally play?
JT: "I can't think of a local venue that at least one of the bands hasn't played. Blue Nile, DBA, One Eyed Jack's, Hi Ho Lounge, All Ways, Circle Bar, etc. There is not a lot of touring, but Strange Roux has been touring along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Florida. Natalie Mae has played Jazz Fest and VooDoo. Strange Roux will be at Mirliton Fest this year."
As far as roots-based Americana Blues Rock, Natalie Mae is a force to be reckoned with. Her sound reminded me of something you'd hear on Beale Street or perhaps at Austin City Limits. I'm a bit claustrophobic, therefore not the biggest fan of extremely intimate settings, however Jason Songe did a great job recruiting fans for the Circle Bar show. Despite close quartered personal space fouls, I fell in love with a new artist, and for that my ears are truly grateful.