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Brooklyn singer/songwriter Natalia Zukerman's 'Brand New Frame' is her latest and greatest to date



Natalia Zukerman with  Chris O'Brian, Buffalofitz and Kate Robinson
8 p.m. Thursday
the Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley

Like a network sitcom, the world of singer/songwriters trends toward the predictable. In that context, Natalia Zukerman belongs on HBO.

Her strumming is particularly percussive, recalling Ani DiFranco, and she samples a variety of styles, surveying smoldering blues, ambling folk, smoky jazz and country shuffles, all tinged with a subtle pop touch.

She plays several instruments, including slide, lap steel, glockenspiel and Dobro " a debt she owes to a lifetime of playing.

The 34-year-old Brooklyn musician comes from a musical family. Her father, Pinchas Zukerman, is an acclaimed violinist. Her mother, Eugenia Zukerman, is a concert flautist, and her sister, Arianna, is an opera singer. Natalia grew up playing a violin, and attended the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College to study classical guitar before moving on to an art degree.

But music kept calling, and she started playing in San Francisco coffeehouses around 2000, releasing her debut, "Mortal Child," in 2001.

In 2008, Zukerman released her fourth and finest album, "Brand New Frame." Recorded with roots-pop artist Willy Porter, it not only showcases her lithe, supple voice and gently evocative writing, but a crispness and depth. Some credit belongs to her supporting players, notably keyboardist David Adler, whose wonderful musical feel shadows her songs with a wealth of warmth. Porter's hand-guided their efforts, for which Zukerman expressed immense gratitude.

"He demands a lot out of me. We really have a different sensibility," she said. "I come from a way folkier place than he does, like, 'Let's throw banjo on everything.' He's helping me bring out my inner pop, which ain't a bad thing."

The record is highlighted by a pair of spirited country-folk tracks, "Early Bird" and "Better Me." The former chugs like a steam engine, as Zukerman recounts a late-night conversation with a flame, considered in the bright light of day, singing, "I two-way mirrored everything you said / And it's left me vulnerable like a new baby's head."

"Better Me" has a Western air, dry and arid as a dusty road, with a wonderfully florid fingerpicked break, as she contemplates starting over again with her paramour in pursuit of their better selves.

Zukerman is working on her follow-up, tentatively titled "Gas Station Roses." Porter is producing as well, but Zukerman said the recording process is much different this time. Rather than playing along to a click track and meticulously assembling the songs piecemeal, she and company are recording everything live.

"My first four hours, I was like, 'I'm never going to get a take that I'm happy with.' But we just went with vibe and feeling. You can't fake that," she said.

When not working on her own stuff, Zukerman plays a lot with others, including iconic singer Janis Ian, and she said she's looking forward to returning to The Blue Door, which she describes as one of her "favorite venues in the whole country" and "a dreamy place to play music." She's also excited to be touring this summer with Okemah songwriter and Blue Door regular John Fullbright. Otherwise, she's just happy to be where and who she is.

"You got to just do what you do," she said with a laugh. "I'm sure there's stuff I'm missing out on. Besides being totally broke all the time, it's a pretty incredible job." "Chris Parker

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