Night Creatures Records– [Release Date: 01.11.13]
The trick with a singer songwriter is always to finds a suitable niche with which to build their profile. In the case of Anglo Australian Nina Ferro things are slightly different. She’s already a multi award-winning vocalist, songwriter, session singer and recording artist, but the question remains how best to market a voice that can make ice melt at 20 paces?
The answer of course is Nashville. Not the Grand Ole Opry model of old, but the contemporary music scene that houses the likes of Dan Baird and Gary Nicholson, who contributes to this album. Then there’s the essential vision of guitarist /producer and project collaborator Sam Hawksley who has placed Nina’s versatile vocals within a roots rock, song-driven environment.
The assembled muso’s apparently nailed 16 songs in as many days and the 13 that made the cut are carried by a sense of purpose that permeates the album as a whole. Thereafter the subtle production emphasizes the harmony heavy hooks, and Nina’s occasional spine tingling phrasing.
And yet there’s still the question of how to label her? After all, there’s blues, jazz, soul, alt- country, and funk. Nina navigates a delicate balance between polished and by turns emotive singing, on a batch of songs that derive their equilibrium from carefully chosen song styles, and the consistency of her performances.
The outstanding thing about this album is that Nina brings such presence and authority to the material through her phrasing and interpretive skills, that the closing ‘All In The Name Of God’ comes as less of a shock than it might do. She shifts her focus from relationship songs to the lack of woman’s rights in different parts of the world and imbues the heartfelt lyrics with a spiritual quality that lifts the whole album beyond its mere commercial possibilities.
‘Into the Light’ is simply a magisterial album, and both her singing and the accompanying musicianship would be difficult to better. Whether Sam Hawksley heard something special before extending his invitation for her to go to Nashville, is something only he will know, but other than the rather formulaic opening track ‘To Get To My Heart’ – a predictable pedal steel guitar line meets a telegraphed chorus – and the radio friendly funk of ‘When I Found You’, this is an album that sparkles with her eloquent phrasing, pristine diction and intuitive timing over nuanced backing vocals.
The album builds subtly by degrees and flows naturally into the one of the album highlights, the percussive funk and ironic message of ‘Plutonic Delirium’. The title track in contrast, is a more relaxed funky groove with an uplifting chorus flecked by guitar and keyboard splashes.
And almost to order, she wraps her warm vocals round the slow blues of ‘Cry Cry Cry’ and hovers, swoops and soars magnificently on the piano led ‘I Turn To Stone’. On the funky ‘Dangerous Move’ the tightly wrapped rhythm section underpins Sam’s brief ascending guitar break to cut through the tension, before Nina’s second vocal attack takes things up a notch with some startling phrasing, on a song that could easily find a home on blues radio play list.
And it is the crossover appeal that makes ‘Into The Light’ more than just another MOR vocal album. There’s a nice ‘live in the studio’ feel, counterweighted by a polished production and Nina’s impressive interpretive skills to push the songs to their potential. And I guess it wouldn’t be Nashville without a brace of country tinged outings, with ‘Finish What You Started’ being the kind of relationship song that fits the old Nashville mould perfectly. And then there’s the confessional ballad ‘Let You Go’, on which she fills the track with a Karen Carpenter style vocal, except for the spiky lyrics given emphasis by a sudden tempo change: I’ve moved all the furniture around, I took all your pictures down, but I still feel the ghost of you, Erased your number from my phone, got use to sleeping all alone, I’ve been putting off the hardest thing to do’.
Sandwiched between the two, there’s the undulating funk of the rockier ‘I’m In’, which gives the album a notable lift at the three quarter mark, as she soars over a sweeping baking vocals in a perfect match of voice, song, and production. It’s also the track on which the session really sparks and nicely frames what has gone before.
‘Into The Light’ is full of good songs, well crafted musicianship and is shaped by Nina Ferro expressive vocals, which much like Amy Winehouse before her, makes light of any stylistic considerations. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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