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By Peter Cronin    2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

Natalie Howard was well on her way to a career in graphic arts when she got sidetracked. Drawn to music since she was a toddler in Queensland, Australia, Howard got serious when she started playing in cover bands while attending art school. When she received a regional arts grant, Howard took the leap, spending the money on a ticket to Nashville for her first Country demo session.

Inspired by the city's songwriting community, she was soon making regular writing trips to Nashville, working with hitmakers including Rob Crosby, James Dean Hicks and Terry McBride. She may have taken a circuitous route to her Country career, but when it comes to her songwriting, Howard tends to get right to the point.

"I have always preferred a direct approach over a vague message," she said. "That's why I gravitate towards Country Music." 

Along with American artists Patty Griffin, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, Howard's list of influences includes fellow Aussies Kasey Chambers, Neil Finn, Keith Urban and one Australian Country singer that preceded them all.

"I do adore Olivia Newton-John," Howard said. "She is the one voice that motivated all that I am today in my music."

The vocal similarity is hard to miss, and it hasn't hurt her a bit at home, where her debut single, "Love You Anyway," gained her a nomination in the 2004 Telstra Country Wide Southern Stars Independent Country Music Awards. Unlike Newton-John, Howard is as much a writer as a singer. She co-wrote every song on her self-titled U.S. debut, including the leadoff single, "The Long Night," a duet with Hicks, who co-wrote the song with Howard and McBride. The single has generated significant airplay Down Under, where Howard's career is already in full swing. Her rousing performance in the Chevy Sports Zone at this year's CMA Music Festival was proof that this Australian import is definitely on the right track.


Who is your musical hero?
"My all time favorite is Olivia Newton-John. I have followed her since I first saw the movie 'Grease.' I just love her, and I love Keith Urban's music. Listening to him always lifts me up."

Which song would you secretly like to cover?
"'Carried Away,' sung by Olivia Newton-John and written by Barry Gibb and Albhy Galuten." 

What CD is on your stereo?
"Keith Urban's Be Here."

What book is on your nightstand?
"Goldie Hawn's A Lotus Grows in the Mud. It was a gift I gave myself when I received word that I would be moving to Nashville. She too overcame a lot of obstacles in her career, so I relate to her." 

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