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Niecie - Beyond The Surface
Review by Joe Montague
Great music never grows old, so Riveting Riffs Magazine reached back to 2011 to review Detroit singer-songwriter Niecie’s album Beyond The Surface and to prepare our readers for her new album to be released this fall.
The things that immediately strike you about Niecie’s singing are her energy, the quality vocals that roll smoothly and without blemish and the emotional impact that her songs bring. The record also boasts some outstanding musicians.
The album opens with the high energy “Drawn The Line,” written by Niecie, a song that suggests it may be about telling someone in your life it is time to move on, because I have had enough. Backed by Crystal Taliefero-Pratt’s solid vocals, excellent drumming by Nioshi Jackson, Brian Gary’s keys, Steve Forest’s electric bass and Mike Durham’s guitar this is a tune that packs a punch.
Kim Morrison’s “The Other Side,” is fueled by more high energy vocals served up by Niecie and fueled by Adam Agati’s sizzling guitar, which is reminiscent of Derek and the Dominos.
Niecie covers “Damn Your Eyes,” written by Steve Bogard and Barbara Wyrick and recorded by Etta James. When James recorded the song it had a lazier, more meandering feel to it and her vocals were more subtle. Niecie and sound engineer John Billings give this rendition of “Damn Your Eyes,” more of a Detroit R&B feel, aided by Johnny Neel on the keyboard, Crystal Taliefero-Pratt’s percussion (also background vocals) and the addition of horns (Jim Wilkerson – trumpet; Michael Gutierrez – sax). The song is introduced by Calvin Turner’s bass. The theme is a woman who wants to leave the relationship, but continues to be seduced by the eyes of her lover. Dare we say it? With all due respect to music icon, the late Ms. James, we like this recording of the Bogard / Wyrick song better.
Niecie demonstrates her sassy side with “Rockin’ A Baby,” another Kim Morrison song (who collaborated with Ronnie Godfrey to write this tune). Niecie’s vocals, as they are throughout Beyond The Surface, are outstanding and energize the listener, drawing you into a song that says grow up or I am not sticking around. Listen up mister this is not a nursery that I am running here, I want a real man in my life, “You refuse to listen to anything I say / And then you throw a tantrum when you don’t get your way / I ain’t runnin’ no nursery, I’m trying to build a happy home / So you better act your age or you’ll be growing up alone / I’m tired of rockin’ a baby.” Crystal Taliefero-Pratt shines again on percussion and background vocals, but make no mistake about it, it is Niecie who makes this song work so well.
The mood completely changes with the fifth track, “Harvest For The World,” a beautiful, gentle song that encourages us to live in a harmonious world community where we do not fight against one another and where instead of being consumed by the desire to have much, we learn to share. There are two very poignant lines in the song “Dress me up for battle, when all I want is peace / Those of us who pay the price, come home with the least.” The versatility in Niecie’s vocals is evident. This is much closer to being a soft Pop tune with Jazz overtones. That is perhaps Niecie’s greatest strength as a singer, as she effectively blurs the lines between Blues, Jazz, R&B and with this song soft Pop and yet the listener is so enticed by her vocals that one barely notices the seamless segues in her music. The production quality of this album is so good and the musicians truly do understand that less is sometimes more.
The tempo changes on track six with another Niecie original “Not No, Hell No,” which possesses a Chicago Blues style rhythm and beat. Johnny Neel (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule) absolutely sparkles with his keyboard work on a song that gets you up out of your chair and dancing. The duo of Wilkerson and Gutierrez are back on horns. This song moves quickly and is a toe tapping, head nodding, body swaying tune and if you are not moving to it, you better check your pulse.
The pace slows down with the Paul F Mitchell song “Hard Times,” a song that is just what the title suggests and features an elegant guitar solo by Shaun Bayles and equally beautiful playing by Jody Nardone on keyboards. Johnny Neel plays the Hammond B3.
The album ends with the spirited Lamont Dozier / Brian Holland / Eddie Holland song “(I’m A) Roadrunner,” a mid-tempo song with more Hammond B3 by Johnny Neel, and Jerry Navarro (bassist) and guitarist Shaun Bayles creating some fireworks of their own.
Although, Beyond The Surface was released in 2011 by Niecie on Ride The Tiger Records and she has a new album coming out mid-Autumn Riveting Riffs Magazine felt compelled to draw attention to this outstanding album, as a preface to our upcoming fall interview with this outstanding singer and songwriter from Detroit.