Album review: NIKKA & STRINGS – Underneath And In Between

NIKKA & STRINGS – Underneath And In Between

Metropolis Recordings [Release date 02.6.17]

Despite a background as a teen star, a high profile backing singer and a songwriter who has worked with the likes of Clapton and Prince, Nikka Costa still has a way to go before carving out her on niche.

While her previous two albums and an EP shifted her focus from funk and soul to pop, this album places the emphasis on her interpretive abilities, over a wide variety of material that also includes a couple of strong self penned songs.

Her shifting musical persona is mirrored by her ability to phrase eloquently and with perfect diction, while when she gets low down and sensual, as on the Eartha Kitt styled ‘Love To Love You Less’,  she can be catch scratch raw while purring like a kitten.

Ironically it’s her versatility that is probably the biggest problem here, as she might struggle to engage a crossover audience with an album that is grounded in soul, but thinks nothing of veering into cabaret, torch songs, blues, and Motown.

On balance, the album fails to push her unique phrasing consistently enough to deliver her own essential DNA. In fact, from ‘Silver Tongue’ onwards –  a lyrical co-write with Prince – the album gently comes to rest in a MOR vein that dissipates what has gone before.

In spite of a few emotive highs – most notably on her heartfelt version of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, especially when she digs deep on Jeff Buckley’s ‘Love Should’ve Come Over’ and makes the most of her range on the nuanced stuttering rhythm of ‘Cry To Me’ – Nikka is a versatile singer in search of her own style.

Both ‘Silver Tongue’ and her version of Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying’ for example, are too similar to generate spark, and when she does extend herself on the closing ‘Stormy Weather’, it’s probably one retro classic too many.

Nikka Costa tells us that: “‘Underneath and In Between’ wasn’t even meant to be an album”. And at times this CD does sound like an aggregation of wide ranging musical ideas pulled together in the 24 hours it took to record and glue it together with a string quartet.

Both the diversity of material and different vocal attacks mean she sometimes struggles to find a meaningful equilibrium. For example, there’s a gulf between the straight jacket restraint of her version of the Sinatra chestnut ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine and the irrepressible sexuality of ‘Headfirst’, which is everything the rest of the album isn’t.

And that’s a shame, as she really get inside the latter with high register phrasing over some adventurous strings. She cleverly builds up the tension, and subsequently resolves it with a descending chorus that comes to gently rest on the song’s title.

There’s enough good stuff on ‘Underneath and In Between’ to suggest Nikka Costa has plenty more to give. What’s lacking at present is a coherent musical direction that is both original and exciting enough to amplify her undoubted vocal talent. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 22 May.

Next session: Sunday 26 June.

Check out previous videos here:

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 12 June 2022.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 14 June 2022.

How to Listen Live?

Click the programming image at the top of the page (top right of page if using desktop)

Listen via Windows Media Player. Click or tap here and “open file”
Listen via other media player (eg. VLC) Click or tap here and “open file”

Get Ready to ROCK! Radio is also in iTunes under Internet Radio/Classic Rock
Listen in via the Tunein app and search for “Get Ready to ROCK!” and save as favourite.

More information and links at our radio website where you can listen again to shows via the presenter pages:

Power Plays w/c 13 June 2022 (Mon-Fri)
IVORY SKIES – Bring Me Up (indie)
HONG FAUX Feign Death To Stay Alive (Golden Robot Records)
OVERLAPS Mind Over Matter (indie)
SOLE SYNDICATE – Brave Enough (Scarlet Records)
DAVID PAICH Spirit Of The Moonrise (Mascot)
JAILBIRDS The River (indie)

Featured Albums w/c 13 June (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 DEF LEPPARD Diamond Star Halos (BMG)
12:00-13:00 LONERIDER Sundown (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 VANDERWOLF 12 Little Killers (Vandermax Music)

Popular (last 30 days)

This entry was posted in ALBUM REVIEWS, ALBUM REVIEWS (Mobile), ALL POSTS and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply