The dance genre is a particularly fickle one; careers aren’t made often, and even when they are, many people are more familiar with the songs than the artists behind them. To a certain degree it’s always been a bit of a faceless medium, with producers driving multiple “groups” under different names, fronted by different singers. Sometimes singers record with different groups. It’s a somewhat incestuous beast, making it all the more remarkable when a career develops. As such, Ultra Nate’s story is pretty amazing.
I’ve watched now and again to see what she’s up to, and the news is great: I missed it at first release, but earlier this year her sixth album of new material, “Hero Worship,” arrived. At a time when artists are increasingly holding back on albums and floating out EPs and singles, her latest effort is a compilation of years of those singles, capped by a number of solid new tracks that shows she clearly still has it.
The singles that built interest in the years leading to the release took some time to get out there, but it was worth the wait. Recorded back in 2009, a duet with Michelle Williams, “Waiting on You,” is a heavy, vocal and beat-driven track that is among her most infectious. Ex-Destiny’s Child member Williams feels at home here, in a move that’s not unlike the direction Kelly Rowland found herself going a few years back with Chris Guetta.
Elsewhere on the album, I’m a fan of the vibe of “My Love,” which has an uplifting move to it and shows her music has evolved, but still contains the spirit of her earlier house releases. It was submitted as a candidate for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012.
Collaborations ruled the roost on much of the album, which makes sense as the album’s core is formed on a series of collaborations Ultra did earlier this decade. This one, “Wasted Hearts,” is a collaboration with Nicola Fasano, who has worked with Pitbull, among others.
Ultra Nate started on a major label, releasing two well-reviewed albums with Warner Brothers, although not seeing a big commercial success. She ended up spurning the label, which wanted her to move in a more R&B direction, and joined forces with dance indie Strictly Rhythm.
She hit her peak successes there, having a massive hit in the song “Free,” which was a rare dance song to chart in the late 90s in the US, but was an enormous hit overseas and kicked off her most successful album, “Situation: Critical.” Follow-up singles “Found a Cure” and “New Kind of Medicine” also scored on the charts in Europe, and did well in the dance community.
Follow-up album “Stranger than Fiction” featured perhaps my favorite track by Ultra, “Desire,” which merged some of the stylings of “Free” with a more straight-ahead dance beat that had some powerful and uplifiting vocals from the singer.
Strictly Rhythm shuttered in the early 2000s (at least for a time), which led Ultra to another respected dance label, Tommy Boy, for her fifth release, “Grime, Silk & Thunder,” which featured another round of strong entries from Ultra, including the risque video that accompanied a nice, modern take on the Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic.” A remix album followed a couple of years later.
An EP of material in 2010, “Things Happen at Night,” helped keep things going in the late 2000s, before the collaborations picked up in the early 2010s. And that leads us back to “Hero Worship.” Ultra Nate and house fans alike should find a lot to like here; while many of the tracks have popped up in various places, there’s still quite a bit else to enjoy, and it’s worth the purchase.