Margaret Durante's way with a song is about much more than her world-class pipes, although her voice has thrilled audiences since she was a girl. The quality that takes her from gifted to magical is the sense of true intimacy she brings to every lyric.
"I want listeners to feel like they are my confidants," she says. "I want them to feel like they have someone to commiserate and celebrate with when they hear my songs."
That she is able to accomplish that level of connection is testament to the sheer talent she brings to the table—talent that has impressed some of the industry's biggest names. And now, with the release of her first EP, Margaret takes the next step, entering the national spotlight with a compelling collection showcasing the full range of her abilities as a vocalist, a performer, and a first-rate songwriter.
The project is for Margaret the culmination of two years of work honing the gift she has nurtured since childhood. Working with a group that includes co-writer and co-producer Stephony Smith and legendary producer/label chief James Stroud made the project a true labor of love.
"I knew I had material that I loved and believed in," she says. "And I couldn’t wait to share the songs with others. Then, when James and Stephony wanted to be involved to the extent they were, that sweetened the deal even more."
The project's first single, "Mississippi's Crying," is the perfect introduction to her work, a powerful yet finely nuanced look at the very landscape of heartbreak. "Maybe Tonight" is the flip side of the coin, a flirty and romantic look at the magic of new love. Margaret brings a wonderful combination of technical prowess and passion to bear on "Paper Chains" and "Better," and tackles a complex web of emotion in "If Love Will Let Me," bringing out the yearning and frustration, the hope and determination woven through a song she wrote with master Nashville tunesmiths Smith and Shelly Fairchild. She closes with "Put Yourself In My Blues," a dramatic demonstration of the ability of first-rate singer and song to combine for a powerful exercise in "three chords and
"I love writing," she says, "and I've been working within this incredibly creative Nashville community to refine what it is I want to say. It was actually very difficult to narrow it down to six
songs, but once we did, we knew we had a coherent group of songs about matters of the heart—love gained, love lost, human emotion at its most powerful."
The project caps a journey that began in a household steeped in music. Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, Bonnie Raitt and Mary Chapin Carpenter were all part of her musical landscape growing up, and Margaret came to add everything from Tracy Chapman to Fine Young Cannibals to the mix.
She was 16 when the father of a grade-school classmate, businessman Thomas Natelli, hired her to sing at a fundraiser. There, she met The B Street Band, a popular Springsteen tribute band. They played another gig together two months later and hit it off so well they agreed to team up for shows.
"The band dubbed me 'Margrock' and I became an honorary member," she says. "I did a set of covers and then they did their show. I took every opportunity to perform with them over the following few years even if it meant I had to follow them up and down the East Coast. I got a lot of valuable performing experience and five great friends in the process.”
She also had proof that her family, which had encouraged her through school plays and chorus, then weddings and parties, was with her all the way.
“It was pretty impressive that they were willing to let their 16-year-old daughter tour with a band of forty-something men,” she says with a laugh.
She looked at colleges where she could study music, fell in love with Clemson and headed off to South Carolina. She became a devoted member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, a huge Tigers fan, an eager student majoring in music and management—"I thought those majors combined would make my music career more of a possibility"—and a member of a chorus and an a capella singing group. She also carved out time to go back to the New Jersey shore to perform and record demos.
Finally, though, "it just came to a point where I got to a crossroads. If I was going to excel at music, I was going to have to commit to it."
She and Natelli were able to arrange a meeting with no less than legendary music exec Tommy Mottola, who became a fan and supporter and helped her open doors in Nashville. Margaret consulted by phone with family and friends and, in January of her sophomore year, decided to head to Nashville, where she knew her tastes and talents would be best be nurtured.
"I was sobbing in the passenger seat for the first hour of that trip home from Clemson. My mom was really rattled at how upset I was. But when I stopped crying, I felt relieved, like I had just freed myself up for what I wanted to do with my life. Everything was clear."
Publishing and A&R executive Laura Stroud was a cornerstone of her development.
"Laura is an amazing person and friend,”says Margaret.“We hit it off so well, and she did everything from helping me decorate my apartment to setting up my first appointments with great writers. She was able to wrap her head around who I was musically and help me shape what I was trying to say on this album."
As she began work on the project, Margaret released a single and video of "Use Somebody," which she describes as "a great learning experience." It gave people their first glimpse of this amazing performer as she was putting the finishing touches on the EP that would reflect the fruition of her dreams and artistic vision. Now, with the project complete, Margaret is again concentrating on live performance, something at the core of her creative being.
"There's an abandon that is involved in performing," she says, "and that's why I love it. It's about you and the audience escaping together.”
As she pours her lifetime of performance and preparation into her career, she is living out the dream that took root in the music-infused home she grew up in.
"There's such a power to music," she says. "It's one of the reasons I live in this town. Although the level of brilliance and commitment that exists here can be almost intimidating, I just let it inspire me. It keeps me humble, but it also makes my appreciation for the magic of music evolve and grow everyday."
And in Margaret Durante, country audiences everywhere are about to find their own connection to that magic.
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