In the opening lines of “In The End,” the spirited but poignant unplugged track that wraps her latest Curb Records album Hurricane, Natalie Grant puts it as plainly as she ever has in dealing with the troubling storms we all face: “Can’t catch a break/You’ve had your fill of old clichés…”. Emerging from a dark, spiritually challenging time in her own life, the multi-talented singer/songwriter—a Grammy nominated, five time GMA (Gospel Music Association) Dove Award winner for Female Vocalist of the Year – breaks through the well worn and cheerful, but not completely truthful, phrases that often leave those who are struggling in need of more.
Open and honest about her personal struggles and hardships over the past few years, the visionary artist offers a rare, gutsy vulnerability throughout ten tracks that chronicle her journey from despair to hope, darkness to light and distance to intimacy. A mainstay on the Billboard Christian Songs chart with numerous #1 hits over the past decade, Natalie — re-affirming her status as one of gospel music’s most popular artists – is enjoying out of the box success with the infectious title track “Hurricane,” which quickly hit #1 on iTunes, charted on Billboard and Mediabase and is the fastest rising single of her storied career.
“I love this album because while stylistically I am still very much in the pop realm, it’s a much more personal project than I have ever done before,” says Natalie, who wrote on eight of the ten tracks, her most ever over the course of eight recordings beginning with her self- titled debut in 1999. “I’ve never taken three and a half years between releases, but that lengthy process allowed it to be an honest reflection of what was going on in my life during this period. Because I am a mom to three girls now, I thought when I started the project I would be less involved than I usually am in the writing and production process because I wouldn’t have the time.” But the reality is that Grant was the most involved, and the result is the record of her career.
“Where at one point I thought I wouldn’t have the emotional space to do an album this soul searching and raw,” she adds, “once the creative dam broke, it was like therapy for me. I gave voice to the burdens I was carrying and feeling inside. Laying it all out there helped me begin to deal with the struggles I was going through in my life. Hurricane is full of my stories and is a reminder that no matter how dark the struggle may seem, we’re not alone – and hope always wins. The last thing the world needs is just another singer and just another song. I want to be a voice that will burn bright with hope. People are desperate for something real, and that’s why I make music.”
There’s a tremendous irony in Natalie finding herself so deep in an emotional, spiritual and creative rut that she originally considered recording only outside material for the new project. In the years prior to doing the recording, she had experienced some of her most exhilarating professional and personal triumphs. Her 2010 release Love Revolution was her second straight recording (after 2008’s Relentless) to hit #2 on Billboard’s Top Christian Albums Chart. She won her remarkable fifth Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 2012 (her other four were in consecutive years, from 2006-2009) and received her first ever Grammy nomination that year (Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance) for her song “Alive.”
In addition, there has been the expansive growth and impact of Abolition International, the organization Natalie founded in 2005 to provide quality restorative aftercare to human trafficking victims both domestically and internationally. And in 2012, she partnered with longtime friend, pastor and international speaker and author Charlotte Gambill, to launch Dare To Be, a revolutionary women’s live event that has thus far drawn tens of thousands of attendees across the nation. Natalie also visited The White House for a special guest performance for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, among others.
On the personal side, after being told they had only a 3% chance to conceive a child, she and her husband and longtime producer Bernie Herms, after numerous fertility treatments, were blessed with twin girls (Grace Ana and Isabella Noelle) in 2007. Then in 2010, they got “the miracle we never asked for” with the birth of their third daughter Sadie Rose. Following that, however, Natalie experienced postpartum depression, driven in part by her feelings of inadequacy when it came to parenting and the overwhelming pressures of trying to balance her busy work schedule with motherhood, family and faith.
Making the spiral worse was her fear about telling anyone in the cultural community where she is an icon and role model that she was experiencing such terrible doubts about herself. “How could I tell anyone I was down when there were so many blessings around me?” she says. “Not long after, I also learned that a family member was struggling with drug addiction and my father was diagnosed with cancer. I felt like I had a dark cloud following me these past few years. I felt ashamed getting up to sing these cheerful inspirational songs when this inner war was going on inside me.”
The song “Hurricane,” penned by Natalie with veteran tunesmiths Matt Bronleewe and Cindy Morgan, proved not only to ultimately be the perfect thematic choice for the title track, but also the spiritual breakthrough she needed. “It was the first song we wrote for the album,” she says, “and I remember the day we wrote it, I went into the studio with nothing substantial, just that catchy ‘oo-hoo-oo’ hook that runs throughout the tune. That morning, I had read the Biblical account of Jesus coming to the disciples who were in a boat in the middle of a raging storm. People think sometimes every life situation resolves itself easily and we come out happy with a little bow on it. But what it actually says is that He’s there reaching out His hand even as the winds continue to rage. We always want the storm to stop, but instead He says that He’ll come to us in the middle of it. That imagery inspired the song. Originally, we thought the title ‘Hurricane’ sounded a little too angst-filled a title for the album. But the cover, featuring a very peaceful image of me, says it all. There is hope and a resource for peace amidst the darkest storms.”
The way Natalie arranged the tracking allows listeners to experience her full journey, from the image of her crying on the floor, feeling completely inadequate and far from the heart of God (“Closer To Your Heart”) to the assurance that “In The End”—a boisterous country-flavored live acoustic gospel sing-along recorded at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios—the sun will shine, our tears will dry and somehow it will all make sense.
The mark of any great songwriter is the ability to make the personal universal, and Natalie finds the perfect way to address a world in need (while sorting through her own trials) on the heartrending ballad “Born To Be,” a duet with Gary LeVox, lead singer of superstar country music trio Rascal Flatts. In the song, they plaintively address a complex, increasingly broken world and ask for guidance to become all that we were “born to be.”
Along the way, Natalie explores her need to hear the “still small voice” of heaven when our natural tendency is to expect the crashing thunder and everything spelled out for us (on the hypnotic song “Whisper”); channels the glorious spirit of St. Francis of Assisi about the need to live a life of love (the propulsive pop-rocker “This Is Love”); and whispers a heartfelt, eloquent prayer for her twins Grace and Bella and baby daughter Sadie Rose on “When I Leave The Room,” whose haunting piano melody by Natalie and Herms underscores the grace-filled lyrics of renowned singer-songwriter Nichole Nordeman. The triumphant declaration “For All of Us” is a song that would be equally at home in the worship setting or on radio. One of the most powerful moments on the project is “Burn Bright,” an honest heart cry, written to a family member struggling with addiction.
With such glorious rebirth comes responsibility, and Natalie is keeping everything in perspective as she embraces her role as the mother of three while also performing from 75-100 dates a year for fans all across the U.S. Continuing her duties on the board of Abolition International, she is happy to report that in addition to measured progress throughout the United States, India, Cambodia, and Moldova, the organization has written the first ever curriculum designed to train doctors how to recognize victims of human trafficking. The singer is also excited about the success and continued work of Dare To Be, which will be in 15 more U.S. cities for a single evening conference/musical event over the coming year. Natalie will also be appearing in her second independent film “Persecuted,” playing the wife of an evangelist framed for murder. Produced by Oscar winning producer Gray Frederickson, it stars James Remar, Dean Stockwell, Bruce Davison and Fred Thompson.
“I really felt like a Hurricane was going on in our lives these past few years, and I wrote the songs on the album from the perspective that there is always a better day coming,” Natalie says. “These are the strongest songs I’ve recorded in a long time and are a true reflection of the hope I find in my faith – songs I am eager to deliver to audiences night after night. It’s one thing to do something creative and cool in the studio, but I really want to deliver them even better and with more emotion onstage. The best part of the experience of making the album was being reminded of the truth once again. Not that I had stopped believing, but I felt like I had forgotten it. I found hope in the midst of my own circumstances and feel like I have created something with all of my heart that can bring hope to those who will listen. Along the way, I rediscovered myself, my art, and my faith and feel as a result, that I can honestly help others find the same.”