Saturday, March 24, 2018

Danielle Nicole - Cry No More

Outstanding.  Old fashioned but modern, straightforward, and outstanding.
That just about sums up this second album from bassist and singer – and what a singer - Danielle Nicole.  Her debut Wolf Den was one of my favourites of 2015, and Cry No More maintains that standard with ease.
Nicole (aka Danielle Schnebelen) is in mighty strong company here, working with drummer/producer Tony Braunhagel and guitarist Johnny Lee Schell, both of them past band members with Bonnie Raitt among a host of other credits going way back to Braunhagel’s stint with Paul Kossoff in Back Street Crawler.  Keyboard duties are shared by
Mike Finnigan – another Bonnie Raitt alumnus – and his son Kelly of psychedelic soul outfit
Monophonics, plus Nicole’s fellow Kansas City resident Mike ‘Shinetop, Jr’ Sedovic.  And that’s before we even get to a handful of guest guitarists who do their bit alongside Schell.
Danielle Nicole - bass totin' vocal gymnast

The real star turn though, is Nicole’s voice.  It’s a rich and resonant thing, with unusual strength at the bottom end, but she can also make it leap and soar and twist and turn.  For spells she’s content to stroll along like a gymnast who gets your attention for nothing more than the poise of her walk, before suddenly bursting into a vocal tumbling routine that leaves you agog.
The old fashioned aspect is that Nicole’s oeuvre is soulful blues, with the emphasis on the soul - you could time travel back to Sixties Detroit and Memphis on the back of this material.  Much of it is self-penned by Nicole, sometimes in harness with Braunhagel, with a few covers thrown into the mix that fit like a glove.
Opener ‘Crawl’ sets the tone, with a little melodic phrase that puts me in mind of Eric Clapton and BB King doing ‘Riding With The King’.  It features some warm piano from Sedovic and stinging guitar courtesy of Nicole’s brother Nick Schnebelen.  It also displays that modern aspect I mentioned – a crisp and powerful production from Braunhagel from his booming kick drum upwards, which still leaves room to foreground a great vocal from Nicole.
She can do sultry too, as on the Bill Withers song ‘Hot Spell’ with its laid back funky groovy, and her own rather different ‘Baby Eyes’, which essays a jazzy New Orleans vibe with tinkling piano from Sedovic and restrained injections of guitar from Brandon Miller.
Memphis beckons on ‘Burnin’ For You’ and the title track.  The former has a simple, catchy chorus, with Nicole’s voice progressively taking wing.  The latter has a simple melody, and a real old soul feel coloured by organ from Mike Finnigan and low key guitar from Schell.  Contrastingly there’s a hint of country to ‘Bobby’, with a quietly yearning quality to Nicole’s vocal at first, before she reaches for the skies.
There’s more variety still with the convincing soul ballad ‘My Heart Remains’, while ‘Pusher Man’ is upbeat R’n’B of a kind that would have fitted smoothly into Samantha Fish’s retro covers album Chills & Fever.  And to close there's Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying’, on which Luther Dickinson contributes slide guitar to add to the mood of updated blues spiritual.
And there’s more besides.  In fact if I have one concern about Cry No More, it’s that at just over an hour it feels a tad overlong – never mind the quality, you start to feel the width.  But it feels a bit mean to complain about having too much of a good thing, doesn’t it?
I said this album was straightforward, and it is.  There’s nothing tricksy or avant-garde shoe-horned into it in an effort to be cool or credible, no force-fitting it into some pre-fabricated modern style.  Danielle Nicole is too good a songwriter and singer to need that sort of crap.  Cry No More has variety, it’s loose-limbed and swings, and it’s delivered with conviction.  Go listen, and find out for yourself. 

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