Mercedes Nicole’s singing is nothing short of sensational; she has drawn from the greats of the past, and developed a style of her own. She has all the assets required of a great singer, perfect intonation and tuning, a fine jazz feel, inventive delivery and the ability to make a song sound very special when she sings it. Her latest album “Constellations” is a fine example of her prowess. A totally mature Nicole harnesses her impressive vocal technique to emphasize the lyrical content and deliver heartfelt interpretations of classic songs, plus a couple of originals. It does help that she is backed by a top tier set of musicians. Among them, Jake Sele, Evan Flory-Barns, D’Vonne Lewis, Brian Kirk, Kevin McCarthy Jay Thomas, Thad Turner, Jerry Wirkkala, & Yun-En Liu.
They’re precisely paired so that the band’s deft, smooth touch and Mercedes Nicole’s silky singing, unerringly hit their target. It’s all too easy, with jazz, to allow one note to slide into the next; not so here. Despite Nicole’s ability to smoothly transition between words, her enunciation allows us to here all of the lyrics.
Considering the wealth of songs, “Constellations” is an album that could have easily been ruined with ego, fortunately we sense sincere collaboration at every step. This is true for the opening track, “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues”, where Nicole’s interpretation is mellow, nuanced and less cluttered by vocal noodling. She also leaves plenty of space for her band to shine.
T-Bone Hooker’s “Stormy Monday”, receives the same respectful treatment. The song highlights how well the band comes together with Mercedes Nicole’s fluid yet articulate singing. Given the variety of songs, and the challenging need for a subtle touch, it really is a tribute to their musicianship they could pull this off so smoothly.
“Rich Man Blues” swings with a spring in its heels, before Nicole switches to her smooth and sensuous interpretation of Big Jay McNeely’s “There Is Something On Your Mind”. This one will definitely put you in the mood.
“Your Love” is an original which Mercedes Nicole has been working on for some time. It allows her to spread her creative wings, and express some of her feelings. The track also features some fiery guitar runs from Jerry Wirkkala, drums by D’Vonne Lewis and double bass by Evan Flory-Barnes.
The band then take center stage with the instrumental, “Turn Me On”. I can’t even remember how many disparate, heartbreaking versions I’ve heard of “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, but Mercedes puts a whole new twist on the narrative. Mercedes doesn’t whine or plead, she simply reveals an evident fact.
Mercedes then turns her attention to the 1951 Roy Hawkins composition, “The Thrill Is Gone”, a song that BB King recorded several times without once liking any of the results. Maybe he just needed to kick back and run with it. Which is more or less what Mercedes Nicole achieves without too much ado.
Often musical interpreters try to force a song into a direction it just does not want to go, a trap Nicole never falls into, as she always follows her feel. Up next we have the Clyde Otis penned classic, “This Bitter Earth”, made famous by the legendary Dian Washington. This is another sublime interpretation by Mercedes Nicole, made even more impactful by the resonant piano playing.
The album closes with a funky upbeat groove, entitled “Path Of Mystic”, a track written by James Howard, a friend of Nicole’s. If you listen closely with undivided attention to each track focusing not only on Mercedes Nicole’s vocals, but also the arrangements, instrumentation and the solos, you’ll agree with me that this is by far her best offering yet. This record finds the velvet-voiced chanteuse in top vocal form.
For those still not in the know, Mercedes Nicole is an American-born acoustic Blues and Jazz singer, as well as songwriter. She grew up in Long Beach California and currently resides in Seattle Washington. A member of the Washington Blues Society, and the American Songwriters Association (ASCAP), Mercedes’ sings a wide repertoire of songs, both original and interpreted.
You can purchase Mercedes Nicole’s music on iTunes, Reverbnation, and off her website: