Back in 2013 when reviewing Danni Nicholls’ previous album, her candidacy for the vacant crown of Queen of UK Americana was announced. Two years on and it is a privilege to announce that the plans for the coronation are well advanced. Where A LITTLE REDEMPTION signed off, MOCKINGBIRD LANE picks up the mantle and under the same guidance of producer Chris Donohue and his team, Danni has raised the stakes higher with an album packed to the hilt with sultry vocals, majestic musicianship and songs strewn with the emotional strains of life.
From a strong background of early exposure to classic sounds right across the spectrum of country, blues, folk and rock n’ roll, Danni has a clear vision of the musical style she wants to portray and takes a major leap towards this goal in the production of her sophomore album. The journey from Bedfordshire to the Nashville-Memphis corridor is a long one but made more practically attainable with a singer-songwriter marrying up the holy trinity of talent, desire and influence.
|Photo by Benn Healy|
Production wise the album successfully merges in a multitude of varied instrumentation, giving sufficient space for the vocals and melodies to flourish which are also subtly supplemented by the phasing in of additional harmonies. Two familiar names jumped out from the lengthy list of players in guitarist Will Kimbrough and vocalist Brandy Zdan, both acclaimed artists who regularly crop up in such credits. From a writing perspective, Danni splits the eleven songs between solo and co-writes, with a slight bias towards the latter, and the strength of the compositions represents an increased maturity of balancing creative self-confidence with the merits of shared experiences. Lyrically the record peaks with the analogy of ‘like the scratched 45 of a sad love song’ gracing the chorus of ‘Beautifully Broken’.
The record hits the traps with immediate effect in the guise of the country rocker ‘Long Road Home’, infected with impressive electric guitar riffs. This is immediately followed by the mellower track, ‘Let Somebody Love You’ complete with acoustic intro. On the subject of intros, the delightful and sincere ‘Leaving Tennessee’ owns an effective initial hook to present a song sung in a more sombre tone to represent the farewell sentiments of the number. Staying with geographical references, Danni eases into a slightly soulful bluesy mode for ‘Back to Memphis’ thus making a case for it being the first among equals in the quest for stand out track.
A brace of mid-album tracks once again tip the record in a heavy roots direction. First up ‘Look up at the Moon’ is a sublime lounge jazz blues effort reeking in nostalgia and timeless essence. ‘Where the Blue Train Goes’ gets the metaphorical nod and attaches a gospel-like sound to another song aching to emerge from the pack. A couple of straight up ballads reflect well on Danni’s diverse vocal range with ‘Feel Again’ and ‘Sad Swan’ giving the album a solid base for the other songs to possibly hit higher peaks.
Both remaining tracks excel in different directions with ‘Between Forever and Goodbye’ being the second offering to be underpinned by a rock sound with a snippet of organ supplementing the heavy guitar presence. ‘Travellin’ Man’ is a jovial show time effort, almost folk-like in its appeal, and acts as the perfect closer to an album that soars across your emotions and senses before planting itself right in the middle of your heart.
In a year where Gretchen Peters, Allison Moorer and Brandi Carlile are leading the way across the water with album recording masterpieces, MOCKINGBIRD LANE is a reminder that over here we have a sterling Americana influenced female singer-songwriter in Danni Nicholls who can mix it with the best. Observing this album emerge and blossom over the ensuing months promises to be one of the highlights of what is turning out to be a remarkable year for outstanding album releases.