When the phrase “guitar hero” gets tossed around, it’s naturally in reference to some of the greatest six string figures in Rock history. But if there is a subset of that hallowed group — guitar heroes in waiting, as it were — then Natalie Wells surely deserves to be included on that hopefully short waitlist.
The Independence, Ky., native is quickly becoming one of the Greater Cincinnati area’s most powerful live forces with a guitar presence that stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the giants of Rock. A teenage student of the Blues, Wells felt an affinity for first generation masters like Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt and next gen ’60s acolytes like Johnny Winter, Big Brother’s Sam Andrews and James Gurley, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher and a host of others. Wells’ brilliance in her own guitar pursuits has been in her supernatural ability to absorb a rainbow of Blues and Rock influences and translate them through her own unique interpretive gifts.Mind the Gap, she may have learned from the greats but she’s much more interested in running the guitar flag a little farther up Rock & Roll Hill.
On her new mini-album, Live from Earth, Wells and her chugging rhythm section (bassist Curt Hall and drummer/vocalist Michael Hodges) offer up an all-cover set that simultaneously proves how much she loves her influences and demonstrates her translational power.
Live From Earth’s seven tracks represent just four factions of Wells’ estimable influences and they’re more than tangentially connected; Buddy Guy is one of the primary links between the old acoustic and new electric school of Blues, while Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower represent those who most effectively reimagined the Blues in a Rock context. Wells injects swinging new life into Led Zep chestnuts “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” while distilling Hendrix’s complex chemistry to a simpler but still impressive formula with her takes on “Stone Free/Third Stone From the Sun” and his avowed classic “Voodoo Chile.”
Wells finds the heart of Guy’s gentle “My Love is Real” and the soul of Trower’s blistering “Day of the Eagle,” all delivered with her fluidly original guitar stylings and a voice that is part husky Blues shouter, part Cher Pop powerhouse. Wells may still has a few minor vocal timing issues to fine tune, but Live on Earth is solid evidence that her guitar chops are cooked to perfection and ready to serve to a wider audience.
At this point, Natalie Wells’ guitar does not gently weep; it cries a bucket of tears, screams with passionate abandon, howls like a steroid-amped wolf and demands to be heard.