Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between
(Go Funk Yourself Records/Metropolis Recordings)
Long this writer’s favourite r&b singer, Nikka Costa’s recording are often played hereabouts. Her work with Prince is well-known and her duet on an early Van Hunt recording ( Mean Sleep) remains an example of stellar collaboration. So on this occasion she has completed a crowd-funding venture to create a collection of – mostly – versions of songs by others. And in the company of a set of string players.
The recording has been worked upon at Metropolis Studios, based in my birthplace Chiswick, in London. This facility records strings to a high quality so that intended element is firmly captured and provides the sweet orchestral sounds in which Costa’s high-octane rasp swims like a dolphin released into the sea…
We have reviewed the lead cut, single and Prince composition Nothing Compares 2 U elsewhere on the site.
Ain’t That Peculiar is of course the early Marvin Gaye tune and the strings are to the fore. It’s taken at a Ray Charles pace and Nikka wrings the sex out of the tune. Love To Love You Less is self-written in warped-soul vein if you listen to the words. The strings here sound like a California accompaniment to a Wes Montgomery recording. Maybe the best singing here. Come Rain Or Come Shine is an ancient song and Costa’s arranger dad Don worked with Frank Sinatra on his take of the number for the Reprise label. Sung at a slow pace and a soft tenderness, the whole piece is impossibly mist-eyed.
Cry To Me is a brisker recording and whilst Costa does fairly well with it, this song for me is forever the sound of a soulful Phil May booming from a South Coast jukebox on a Pretty Things 45…..
Arms Around You is a new number co-written with Justin Parker with an almost hymnal touch. Lovely song and if you like this do get her other albums where such soul-searching moments float around you like petals on a pond ; Headfirst was first heard on the rare ProWhoa EP (you cost me a bit on that one, Nikka!) and you half expect Kate Bush to start singing. This sounds a tad restless and undefined, sorry.
Lover You Should Have Come Over will inevitably put the listener in mind of the late Jeff Buckley. The presentation here is slow, steady and stark, Costa in conspiratorial timbre. I have to be in the mood to play this one, to be frank. Silver Tongue comes from Costa sending a poem to Prince and him providing the music. Piano-centred and sounding a shade Mediterranean, every nuance is found by Nikka. Would that Julie London were still recording, eh ?
Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying walks into Peggy Lee and moreover Dinah Washington territory with its easy blues cadences and steady chord progression and this edition sounds just kittenish, as surely intended ? The piano solo is a nice touch. Closing cut Stormy Weather is the blues standard, with an initially strident intro mellowing into melted chocolate. Costa sounds a little meek, why I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t want to overpower the song.
Engineered and mixed by the legendary Bob Clearmountain, this album stars a killer voice on melodic and soulful material. It is not perhaps where one should start exploring this artist but it’s a worthwhile side-trip imho
Nikka Costa’s new studio album “Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between” is out now on Get Funked Records/Metropolis Recordings.
It is available on the following formats:
Standard CD Digipack with 8 page booklet
Digital album release (stream / download)
Standard 12″ black heavyweight vinyl design
Deluxe double 12″ vinyl gatefold with special edition slip case plus live to vinyl and live performance on USB
For more information visit nikkacosta.com