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The "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage virtually guarantees repeat success in the music industry once a hit formula is found, yet from time to time, an artist steps out of their comfort zone and breaks the mold, discontent to pursue the predictable. Enter Natalie Grant. A powerhouse vocalist, heart-gripping songwriter and charismatic performer, she's eager to push boundariesâ ”sonically, lyrically and otherwiseâ ”and she more than proves her intentions with Relentless, her seventh album and first studio recording in nearly three years.
It would've been easy for Natalie, GMA's reigning Female Vocalist of the Year for four consecutive years, to rest on her laurels and make another Awaken. Her 2005 breakthrough recording, Awaken helped Natalie become Christian music's top selling Adult Contemporary female solo artist in 2005, 2006 and 2008, gave her a formidable foothold at mainstream radio and media, and made her a household name in Christian music. But this time around, she was determined to keep people guessing.
Like Awaken, Relentless showcases a deep dimension of lyrical honesty and vulnerabilityâ ”a hallmark of Natalie's music these daysâ ”yet sonically, she embraces her more progressive rock/pop side, replete with live horns, grittier guitar licks and the distinct R&B flair of her voice that's often been toned down in the past.
"This time, I wanted to take it old school with lots of live instrumentation," she says. "I love how horns have made a resurgence in pop music, and I wanted Relentless to be more raw and edgyâ ”more authentic and less pristine."
Vocally, Natalie was also determined to push herself. The new richness and robustness that shines through in tracks like the soulful "I Will Not Be Moved" and the country-tinged hit single "In Better Hands" even surprised her a little.
"Sometimes I think people assume that women are supposed to always sing the introspective, soft songsâ ”which they do beautifullyâ ”but I wanted moments where I could be bold and strong and show there's a powerful, passionate message that a woman could deliver. That's what I set out to do on Relentless."
With expectations running high after the overwhelming success of Awaken, Natalie was also intentional about her continued passion to create music with a purpose. With her husband, Grammy nominee and Dove Award winner Bernie Herms, as well as longtime collaborator and Dove Award winner Shaun Shankel at the production helm, Natalie wrote more than ever before for Relentless. She penned or co-wrote seven of the album's 12 cuts, collaborating with acclaimed singer/songwriter Matthew West as well as GMA's 2006 Songwriter of the Year Christa Wells (writer of Natalie's multi-format hit and signature song, "Held"), among others.
Artistic fervor resonates from a variety of sources, but Natalie's comes from a deep desire to live a life that mattersâ ”one that has eternal significance. Motivation has manifested itself in a variety of ways in her life, but in no way more clearly than through Natalie's commitment to combat international human trafficking. As one of the first artists to open the eyes of the Church to the atrocities of children around the world forced into the sex trade, Natalie created The Home Foundation in 2005 to raise both awareness and financial support for this important fight.
"My work with The Home Foundation is shaping everything I do," Natalie says. "I was the girl who fell hardcore for the American dream. I fell for the idea that if I worked hard enough I could pursue my dreams. My life was all about me. But when I met girls like Auscha, who had been abused for seven years, I decided to do everything I could to help these innocent victims.
"I resolved to give my life away, and as a result, it really began to shape a belief that regardless of circumstance, hope still endures. And that's why the work of The Home Foundation is so life-changing for me. Lives are being affected for eternity."
Natalie is also motivated by her role as a popular speaker and performer on Women of Faith's "Revolve Tour" for teen girls. After overcoming a struggle with bulimia as a young adult, her message of self-worth from God's perspective has yielded thousands of affirming letters and e-mails from girls who have taken Natalie's words to heart.
"Teenage girls come to the arena, screaming and having fun, but underneath it all, they are one straw away from breaking into a million little pieces," Natalie shares. "They are carrying such a heavy load, and that makes me feel like I'm not only a part of something meant to change the lives of these girls, but of something that will impact generations to come."
These days, Natalie's newest role is one she treasures the mostâ ”mom to one-year-old twin daughters Grace and Isabella. And motherhood has given her the kind of fulfillment she never could've imagined previously.
"Now that I'm a mother of two little girls, its all the more reason to fight for what's important," she says. "Now I can't help but wonder what it will be like when my Bella or my Gracie is 15. It would be irresponsible of me to not try and shape the world they live in."
In a nutshell, that's precisely why Natalie won't make an album without being intentional about its purpose. Dove Awards, radio hits and album sales, while inconsequential in the light of eternity, have graciously afforded Natalie an even broader platform from which to share her message, and she doesn't take that lightly. On a mission to push musical boundaries and change lives, Natalie Grant is no longer afraid to break the mold and swing for the fences. She's determined, and she's relentless.