I’ve been procrastinating for the better part of a year, but I’m finally ready to announce that I’m head over heels for Natalie Gordon, the extraordinarily talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Sacramento’s Agent Ribbons. She’s so damn groovy and gorgeous that she almost instantly became my local celebrity crush the first time I had an opportunity to watch her do her thing. Here, take a gander and you’ll see what I mean:
Yeah, she’s a doll alright, but you ain’t gonna hear her music just by staring at her. That’s why I’m here to let you know that Agent Ribbons’ debut release On Time Travel and Romance has given Sacramento another reason to be proud of its homegrown musicians. It all began when Natalie befriended Lauren Hess in a downtown used record store (which happens to be the very same store featured on the cover of DJ Shadow’s magnum opus Entroducing . . . ) This meeting of minds gave Natalie a renewed interest in her musical ambitions and inspired her to form a band (à la Art Brut) with Lauren sitting in on drums. Agent Ribbons has a decidedly retro sound thanks to Natalie’s focus on vaudeville, cabaret, and blues traditions in her songs, but she still manages to put a contemporary spin on everything she touches. Writing stories about looking for love after death and running off to join the circus, Natalie has a talent for dishing out the whimsy without ever sounding overly cute. And her vocal on “Birds and Bees” is so hypnotically sensuous that it’s become a permanent fixture on my profile on MySpace. I particularly like how Agent Ribbons’ DIY discipline extended to recording the album. They’ve admitted that they just wanted to take a batch of Natalie’s terrific songs and bang ’em out without much thought of what they would sound like. They weren’t very proficient on their instruments at the time, but they figured out how to compensate by creating a signature sound that supported their material but didn’t overstep their reach. Natalie’s vocals are up front and center, her tunes are simple but instantly memorable, and the chemistry she shared with Lauren is quite apparent since there’s very little else competing for attention. A classic album, as far as I’m concerned.
Their follow-up, Chateau Crone, might possibly be a classic as well, but it’s definitely another creature altogether. With a much fuller palette and considerably more ambition on display, I was quite impressed with how much work they put into this one compared to the first. I have to admit I was pretty surprised when I finally heard the leadoff song “I’m Alright” up close rather than from a distance. (I’d heard it in a park as Sacramento concert promoter and Agent Ribbons groupie Jerry Perry played the new album repeatedly at a chalk art festival I was involved with.) Not exactly what I expected to hear from the ladies, but it sounds like they were born for it. Absolutely rockin’ and yet so damn smooth . . . . a hit single floating in from a much cooler time and place! What follows is generally more familiar for those accustomed to their older stuff, but with newest member Naomi Cherie adding violin and cello to the mix as well as the addition of background vocals and fancy effects, it does give them sort of a “Wall of Sound” compared to the minimal accompaniment they established before. That means you’re gonna have to listen to it a few times before it really starts to sink in, but it’s certainly worth the extra time it takes to sort it all out. Natalie’s vocals are more subdued and less quirky this time, but she still sounds fabulous. She seems to be haunted by the ghost of Roy Orbison in “I Was Born to Sing Sad Songs,” which is one of the most majestically melancholic ballads I’ve heard in quite some time. The album ends with popular concert favorite “Wood Lead Rubber,” but Naomi’s violin runs certainly add a thrilling dynamic not present in their live renditions when Natalie and Lauren performed it as a duo.
Since the ladies weren’t able to make ends meet in their hometown, they moved to Austin in March 2010 with the hope of greater success. Naomi unexpectedly left the band during a national tour, but Agent Ribbons bounced back with a BUST Magazine interview a few months later. Sadly, Lauren decided to call it quits after an unfortunate accident while returning home during their last tour resulted in a broken wrist. Natalie has since moved on with a new band called Tele Novella that features boyfriend Jason Chronis on bass, Matt Simon on drums, and Sarah La Puerta on keyboards. Let’s hope the next few years bring more ups than downs for this wonderfully talented woman.
Bonus Fun Fact – In 2008, Agent Ribbons was banned from entering the U.K. for a full ten years! Okay, perhaps the word ‘fun’ doesn’t exactly apply here, but that certainly is an attention grabber. Here’s the full story.
You can find Agent Ribbons’ On Time Travel and Romance for sale here.