Natalia Zukerman - "I Don't Feel It Anymore" and "Hero" (audio) (Premiere)

Check out two contrasting cuts from Natalia Zukerman's upcoming album, Come Thief, Come Fire: the intimate, acoustic "I Don't Feel It Anymore" and the sprightly full-band tune "Hero".

Singer and songwriter Natalia Zukerman's latest project, the studio album Come Thief, Come Fire, began as two separate projects. One was an EP of sparely arranged, largely acoustic material; the other, in contrast, utilized a full band. However, upon realizing that there existed between the material "an overarching theme about fire and its elemental capacity for destruction and growth", which lead Zukerman to merge the two EPs into one full-length recording. Two tracks from Come Thief Come Fire, "I Don't Feel It Anymore" (representing the acoustic material) and "Hero" (representing the full band material), can be streamed below.

Zukerman told PopMatters about these two songs in great detail, saying, "All of the records I’ve made to date have been a collection of the songs I’ve written over a certain period of time, their only connective tissue being me as the writer and performer. This project is a big artistic leap for me in that I wrote the title track first and all the other songs followed suit, some of their own accord, some molded and cajoled to fit the dress code. Come Thief, Come Fire came from two sources: a Janet Hirshfield book of poems called Come, Thief and the poem by Elizabeth Bishop in which she says, 'The art of losing isn’t hard to master.' I wrote (and then re-wrote with Erin McKeown) about fire’s power to create and destroy, to resurrect, recreate and devastate. The way that a Jack Pine needs disaster to keep growing (its seeds will only open under extreme heat!) I used these ideas to create all the songs on this record, to take what had been a very transformative year for me personally and to create a story of a cycle, from loss to discovery and back again.

"The first set of songs were recorded with Willy Porter in Milwaukee. At the time, I thought we were making an EP but when I sent one of the tunes ('What Comes After') to my friends AG and Meg Toohey in Los Angeles and they sent back a cinematic explosion of sound, I knew I needed to investigate further. I thought then, perhaps, that there would be two separate EPs, one 'acoustic' and one 'produced'. But when the two parts were finished, I knew the story worked as a whole, that to follow the metaphor, the record goes from a small spark to a smoldering flame and back.

"I asked my good friend Erin McKeown to produce one song on the record. I was on the road at the time with AG and we stopped at Erin’s to record 'Jane Avril', a song about Toulouse-Lautrec’s muse and the dancer of the Moulin Rouge. The night before going into the studio, we sat around Erin’s kitchen table and talked about all of the things we used to do that were so impactful, so huge in our lives, and that we couldn’t access as easily anymore—from the magical worlds we created as little people, to the earth-shatteringness of first love, to the experimentation and exploration of some of our earlier years! Some of the stories we wrote and told one another were filled with sadness over not being able to access that kind of pure emotion anymore but most of it was filled with a relief and a sense of growth and knowing. So we wrote 'I Don’t Feel It Anymore' from our stories that night and recorded it the next day. Abbie Gardner came in later to play the dobro part later but other than that, it’s just as it is. It fit the first part of Come Thief, Come Fire perfectly—a simple song in its purest form.

"As I was writing the songs for this record, I heard a story about a man who’s known in the lore as 'Burnin’ Vernon'. Vernon Shultis was a firefighter in the Woodstock, NY area. His family owns a lot of property in that area. In the summer of 1997, there were over 50 barn fires, mostly on Shultis properties. Vernon put them out singlehandedly and became a huge 'hero' in the town. Well, it turns out that Vernon was lighting the barns on fire himself! The way that the town divided between the old timers and the New Age newcomers was amazing to read about and the way that Vernon himself was deified and vilified in equal measure was rich with story telling fodder for me. A few songs on the record ('Hero' and 'One Of Us') are based on Vernon’s story and I have a feeling, there are more to come!

"These two songs represent the sonic development of this record- the way that an underpainting provides the armature for the completed canvas, we used elements of the more stripped down songs to build the sonic world that the more produced songs live in. I know that in this time when people rarely listen to a record in its tracking order that some of this intention will be lost. Luckily, I think the songs stand on their own individually; but, when put together, there is a world that is created. My hope is that people get lost inside of this world. And then find things they didn’t even know they were missing."

Come Thief, Come Fire is out on September 16th through Talisman.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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