The world of musical theatre is no stranger to the talents of Natasha Barnes, her story is such a lesson to those who would ever underestimate an understudy. And as is often the case following such stage success, the announcement of a debut album was not too far behind. What might surprise you though is that Real is no skip through your usual musical theatre standards, it is seriously impressive contemporary pop.
A mixture of original songs and covers that suggest a fascinatingly diverse record collection (Paramore to Motown group Porgy and the Monarchs to Northern Soul’s Towanda Barnes), the overall vibe emerges as something relaxed and retro – a chilled out Paloma Faith if you need a more direct comparison. You really feel her influence on lead single ‘Supermodel’, irresistible in its driving groove.
‘Sun, Moon and Stars’ is another standout as it draws a little from Dusty Springfield’s kind of magic but soon finds its own silkily gorgeous way. That Motown track ‘If It’s For Real’ is an underappreciated gem, soaked with longing desperation and siren-call horns, and the gentle swing of ‘Home’ showcases the higher reaches of her range oh so well.
There’s a nod to her musical theatre roots as the album closes with a stripped-back, intimate take on ‘People’ which shouldn’t work as well as it does but it really does feel completely of a piece with the rest of the album rather than a MT classic. And that kind of epitomises the success of Real, showcasing an entirely different side of Barnes to huge success. By rights, this album ought to make her a superstar.