one to keep my eye on
best new release of the month for me
best is the included clip
a 30 year old unfinished Dylan composition that he turned over to Nikki to finish

Grade - 1.9

from the album - Steel And Feathers (Don't Ever) - 2.5

from all music


Vocalist and songwriter Nikki Jean, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, was a member of Nouveau Riche, a Philadelphia-based group featuring Roots affiliate Dice Raw. The group released a pair of EPs and never achieved lift-off, though Nikki did some outside work during that time, including the lead vocal on a cover of Sting’s “Be Still My Beating Heart,” recorded with ?uestlove of the Roots' Randy Watson Project for Ubiquity’s Rewind! 5 compilation. She gained wider exposure in late 2007, when she contributed vocals to two tracks on Lupe Fiasco's The Cool -- “Little Weapon” and the single “Hip Hop Saved My Life,” the latter of which she also co-wrote. The following year, she performed with Fiasco as one of the opening acts on Kanye West's Glow in the Dark Tour. She subsequently focused on her solo career and forged a close alliance with producer Sam Hollander; she sought him specifically for his work on Carole King's Love Makes the World. Hollander and Nikki conspired to gain songwriting input from a a number of legends, most of whom peaked during the '60s and '70s. Though Columbia signed Nikki, the label didn't see the project through and dropped her in October 2010. S Curve swept her up and released the album, Pennies in a Jar, in July 2011. The diverse set of throwback-oriented songs, all custom built by Nikki Jean's light yet powerful voice, counted King, Thom Bell, Lamont Dozier, Paul Williams, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Jimmy Webb, and Carly Simon among its staggering list of co-composers. The album also featured “Steel and Feathers,” a song intended for Bob Dylan's 1981 album Shot of Love that had been left incomplete and unrecorded for three decades.

Album Review

Merely eyeing the sleeve and scanning the songwriting credits, it appears likely that Nikki Jean's Pennies in a Jar is a sample-heavy nostalgia trip through classic ‘60s and early-‘70s pop and soul (with a little country), maybe with a modernized hip-hop spin on it. That’s not the case. It does sound like a nostalgia trip, but all the material is new, written by the twenty-something Nikki Jean alongside a Grammy-baiting list of songwriting legends. Thom Bell, Luigi Creatore, Lamont Dozier, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Carole King, Bobby Braddock, Paul Williams, Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Carly Simon were all visited by Nikki Jean, who took the songs to producers Sam Hollander and Dave Katz and a set of session musicians. It sounds like some kind of jackpot-fantasy American Idol working vacation. The album was nearing completion when Columbia dropped the artist, allegedly telling her “Nobody cares about these writers,” possibly unaware that another artist on the roster, Raphael Saadiq, was in the process of making a second album that emulated the work of those very writers. More significantly, this is the type of thing Nikki Jean -- a music nerd with a lithe, quietly potent voice -- should be doing, and the S-Curve label, which rescued the project, was sensible enough to see that. Guest verses from Lupe Fiasco and Black Thought excepted, the album is a throwback, and each song gets an appropriately classicist backdrop, from the pedal steel and strings on “How to Unring a Bell” (written with Bell), to the slow-motion dream world sound of “Pennies in a Jar” (Bacharach). Taking the music on its own, divorced of context -- without considering the elder songwriters’ overwhelming collective body of work -- is close to impossible, but it’s very easy to enjoy, voiced by a remarkably refined artist who is neither squarely R&B nor pop, certainly worthy of being granted quality material co-written by some of her heroes. The icing is “Steel and Feathers (Don’t Ever),” a gospel/country devotional left unfinished for 30 years until its writer, Bob Dylan, allowed Nikki Jean to complete and record it.

Track Listing

1 How to Unring a Bell
2 Steel and Feathers (Don't Ever)
3 La Di Da Di Da
4 My Love
5 Pennies in a Jar
6 What's a Girl Supposed to Do
7 Rockaway
8 Million Star Motel
9 Patty Crash
10 China
11 Mercy of Love
12 Sex, Lies and Sunshine