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Nikka Costa – Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between album review

A soaring and emotional collection of covers and originals from the soulful songstress.

Credit: Nikka Costa
Nikka Costa - Nikka & Strings

Credit: Metropolis Recordings

It’s been almost a decade since Nikka Costa released her last studio album Pebble to a Pearl. Since that album Costa has released the EP ProWoah in 2011 but other than that it’s been pretty quiet in terms of new music. Costa enjoyed a breakthrough to the mainstream in 2001 with Everybody Got Their Something after spending years touring and releasing music as a child artist. For her latest release Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between, Costa has selected some well-known songs and sprinkled a few originals in the mix.

Nikka & Strings kicks off with a cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U, a song that is given a new poignancy since the icon’s shock passing. Having performed the song live for months, Costa decided to commit it to record and her take on the track couldn’t be more different from the Sinead O’Connor version you’re likely to know. I must confess I actually actively dislike this song, for a number of reasons, but Costa has managed to make me like it for the first time in my life. Her incredible voice teases the soul and emotion out of the song while luscious instrumentation gives the song more of a beat, moving it away from the dreary O’Connor version.

The shadow of Prince pops up again on Silver Tongue, a song Costa originally wrote as a poem and sent to him. He recorded a version that appeared as the B-side to his single Call Your Name and Costa decided to include it on this record after years of struggling to make it fit on her other projects. The simplicity of the track is its strength and it’s a real showcase for the remarkable range of Costa’s voice.

One of the things that’s impressive about Nikka & Strings, is that it’s actually hard to differentiate between the covers and the originals. Costa has such a unique voice and style, that she can make anything sound fresh and new. Her take on Solomon Burke’s Cry To Me is one of the highlights on the record and Costa’s powerful voice pushes every ounce of emotion to the fore.

The track that started the idea for the record is Come Rain Or Come Shine, made famous by Frank Sinatra. Costa’s father, music producer Don Costa, did the arrangement for a 50 piece orchestra but Costa with the help of arranger Jeff Babko reworked it for a string quartet. It’s a stunning moment on the record and the story behind how the track came to be gives it an emotional punch.

On the record Costa reimagines some of her own tracks such Love To Love You Less (originally on Pebble to a Pearl) and Headfirst (originally on ProWoah). Both songs have been transformed to fit on Nikka & Strings but they both serve to show how versatile a musician and performer Costa is. Headfirst in particular is a real triumph, moving away from the electronic feel of the original and replacing it with dramatic strings and hushed vocals.

Elsewhere Costa puts her spin on the Jeff Buckley classic Lover You Should Have Come Over, tackles the mighty Stormy Weather as the album closes, and includes new track Arms Around You at the mid-point, packing plenty of emotion.

One of music’s great mysteries will always be why Nikka Costa didn’t become a huge global star. She’s deserving of far more attention, and commercial success, than she’s enjoyed and Nikka & Strings really showcases everything that’s unique about her. A lot of albums that rely heavily on covers feel pedestrian but this feels fresh, vibrant and exciting. Nikka & Strings is a welcome return for an eternally underrated musician and I can’t wait to see Costa perform these tracks live.

 

Track Listing: 1. Nothing Compares 2 U 2. Ain’t That Peculiar 3. Love To Love You Less 4. Come Rain Or Come Shine 5. Cry To Me 6. Arms Around You 7. Headfirst 8. Lover You Should Have Come Over 9. Silver Tongue 10. Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying 11. Stormy Weather Record Label: Metropolis Recordings Release Date: 2nd June 2017

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