KRISTINA STYKOS River Of Light
Thunder Ridge Records [Release date 05.04.19]
With many of the songs delivered in an enforced semi-spoken style (in 2017, she was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder that makes speaking and singing difficult or even impossible), and an excellent supporting cast, including guitarists Val McCallum (Jackson Browne) and Steve Mayone, Americana singer songwriter Kristina Stykos’ eighth album, River Of Light, is one well giving some extended listening time.
Recorded, and self-produced, at the multi instrumentalist’s own Pepperbox Studio – a fully solar, wind, and generator powered facility – the thirteen tracks explore love and aging, set in the context of the peace and solitude of her Vermont Green Mountains surroundings, in a way not dissimilar to fellow folk/environmentalist Alice DiMicele.
Instead of inhibiting her performance, her distinctive vocal style gives her lilting alt country/folk a fragility and uniqueness that rewards repeated listens. Add in some sublime guitar work courtesy of McCallum and Mayone, whose solo lines permeate the set with elements of the blues, and even funk (‘At The Edge’), and you’ve got a highly intoxicating brew.
And, as if to prove she can cut it ‘alone’, an exquisite ‘solo’ instrumental – ‘Godspeed’ (dedicated to her father), closes the set in haunting fashion. An album for whom anyone with an interest in Americana would be well advised to investigate. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
DANNI NICHOLLS The Melted Morning
Danni Nicholls Music [Release date 12.04.19]
The Americana singer songwriter genre has moved on apace since Nicholl’s sophomore release Mockingbird Lane (2015). But in the interim, that album’s served her well, earning Americana Music Association UK award nominations in 2017 for UK Album Of The Year, and 2018 UK Artist Of The Year.
Recorded in Nashville (where else?) her third album is produced by multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer Jordan Brooke Hamlin – who’s worked with the likes of Grammy Award-winning duo the Indigo Girls, Rachael Yamagata, and Missy Higgins – at her MOXE studio retreat on 20 idyllic acres of woodland.
With an almost exclusively female supporting cast made up of the cream of the Nashville crop including Annie Clements – bass (Maren Morris, Amos Lee), Larissa Maestro – cello (Margo Price), Jordan Brooke Hamlin – guitars, bass, trumpet, piano, and The Secret Sisters – backing vocals, The Melted Morning is a quality release that reaffirms Nicholls’ credentials.
Yes, she’s come a long way from Bedford, but the maturity and class that pervades her vocals on The Melted Morning’s 11 tracks marks her out as an artist with the ability to leave a her own unique mark on the Americana landscape.
If there’s a complaint, it’s that the material – either self-penned, or co-written with songwriters including Ben Glover, Robby Hecht and Jess Morgan – is perhaps overly smooth, refined and polished.
But where she does go out on a limb like haunting, ultra-slow burning pairing ‘Unwanted’ and ‘Frozen’ there’s no denying Nicholl’s star potential.
Elsewhere, there’s little by way of edginess, rawness, or risk taking, and despite being faultlessly produced, I can’t help but feel that – in terms of the current Americana music scene – The Melted Morning may considered just a little too, well, bland. ***1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
Danni Nicholls is on tour in the UK March-May 2019.
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