Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * *
The image of the smoky back rooms in which the lively catch the attention of the sparkling and the animated, the streets of Harlem jumping with the new sound, proud of what the music speaks of, and somewhere on 121st Street the vivacious tones of a voice raised by an angel and given permission to wink and be coy like a devil sings songs of beauty, happiness and regret in equal measure.
Such is that image, such is the time and place of the old Jazz and Soul bars, that to love the selection of songs chosen by the prestigious Nikka Costa for her latest album is all but a given and one that will place you on a pedestal inside the Paris Blues, put a drink of your discerning choice in your hand and allow you to take a sensual vocal trip with the artist as Nikka & Strings plays songs from Underneath And In Between with pleasure.
To have been to Harlem is an experience worth any encounter along the way, to feel the pulse of the city beyond Central Park is something that the visitor to New York might bypass as they search for other mementoes, other pictures in which to show their friends of the time they had and the seemingly invisible they missed.
It is in these Underneath And In Between places in which the talented Nikka Costa arguably plays homage too, for the sound of Blues may have been born along the Mississippi Delta, down along the banks of swinging New Orleans but its home is always Harlem and like that talked of angel with the devilish streak in her, Ms. Costa sings the Blues with the same matchless performance as supplied by the late, great Etta James, as nimble as Nina Simone and with the same gigantic passion in her voice as Britain’s modern day heroine Joanne Shaw Taylor.
Opening with a cover of an absolute classic, written by the outstanding Prince, shared with the world by the astonishing Sinead O’Connor, might seem reckless in some eyes, but to hear Ms. Costa take on Nothing Compares To You with so much vulnerability in her voice, the service she pays to both artists mentioned is exquisite and filled with genuine honour.
With the strings arranged by Jeff Babko and including names such as Sean Hurley, Caroline Buckman, Songa Lee, Tim Loo and Shawn Davis, the album generates so much warmth that even on a cold winter’s day, the welcome would be melting the snow all along 121st Street and making eating roasted chestnuts in Central Park superfluous.
With tracks such as Love To Love You Less, the special beauty of Come Rain or Come Shine, which her father originally arranged for Frank Sinatra, Arms Around You, Cry To Me and the luminary laden Stormy Weather all making a terrific and seismic impact on the album, this is not to be considered any old album, this is history in the making, a reminder that Jazz and Blues came from somewhere and was epic enough to be given a home by the very best.
Nikka & Strings’ Underneath And In Between is released on June 2nd by Metropolis Recordings.
Ian D. Hall