Roaring Fork musician Natalie Spears’ new album features a collaboration with the sandhill crane (yes, the bird)

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Photo Courtesy of Teya Cranson
Natalie Spears

“Hymn of Wild Things,” a new album from Natalie Spears begins just outside of Orchard City in Western Colorado at a reservoir frequented by some of the state’s most elegant residents. 

“If you've never heard them, their calls sound a little bit like this,” Spears said, replicating the sound of a sandhill crane, which exists somewhere between a purr and a bugle. “They're slightly awkward in nature. But, because they're such majestic creatures, I was sort of thinking of this dreamy world to create to support the album and the narrative of their journey, of their migratory journey.” 

Spears got up early one morning and staked out the Fruit Growers Reservoir in Delta County to record the sounds of the bird, which opens the title track of her record before blending into the sounds of pedal steel guitar.

Spears, who lives in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, said her music is pulled not just from the wilds near her home, but also the wild feelings that permeate the lives of humans.

The third song on the album, “Risk It All” was recorded in New Orleans and inspired by dance floor passion and the jazz music she played with her father. 

“In my twenties, I started going to this really fun festival in Lafayette, Louisiana called Black Pot. And it's sort of a cajun swing/zydeco fusion festival. And at night they have these great barn dances and it's fun to watch the dance floor romance kind of play out over a few days,” Spears said. “I really wanted to write kind of a flirty 1930s-inspired jazz tune about this festival. And it was fun to loop in Duke Ellington's song, ‘Creole Love Call,’ which we quote later in the track.”

Spears’ father, John Spears, played jazz and classical piano, which contributed to her love of music. He died in 2018, Spears said, and that loss, as well as her father’s Alzeihmer’s, are present in the record. 

The second song on the album, “He Still Knows,” simmers in the experience of having a parent struggling with their memory. The song demonstrates another case of reaching into the musicality bag of tricks to find an effect that pairs with the lyrics and spirit of a song.

“I had come into the studio with this idea of wanting reverse guitar on the track and with the idea that once you play a melody through an amp and you kind of send it back, it still has an essence of the original melody, but it gets all distorted and kind of is hard to find the center,” Spears said. 

Jayme Stone produced the album and helped blend that sense of distortion into the music, Spears said, in addition to seeking out the perfect steel pedal guitarist to pair with sandhill cranes or the right place in New Orleans to record a song about love on a Louisiana dance floor. 

Spears is touring Colorado this summer, having already performed in places from Fort Collins to Paonia. While she hasn’t found an animal that will headline her next album, she said she is enjoying the experience of sitting with places and people that might prompt a new melody some day. 

“Sometimes it's hard for me to fully start the new project until I'm done (with the old), but I am getting the ticklings of new music and it's fun to see, of all the songs and the colors, which ones I'm most excited about right now and which ones I'm wanting to expand,” Spears said.

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