Talk about nice timing for an album. Nikki Hill delivers a rock and roll album that is raw, vital, infused with blues and soul, and in need of being heard. Hill grew up in Durham, North Carolina and transitioned from singing in church to lending her vocals to other performers passing through town. Her development would take her to St. Louis where her confidence grew, which combined with her independent streak has gifted us with a hard hitting artist that can go from smooth soul to AC/DC in her live shows, which she is doing about 200 nights per year. ‘Feline Roots’ showcases a variety of sounds across these 10 wonderful songs that are going to take up residence on your stereo.
Hill wastes no time in showing she means business with the opening guitar riff of ‘Get Down, Crawl’ setting the speakers on fire as Hill sings over a hard driving bluesy beat. The bass (Nick Gaitan) and drum (Marty Dodson) work here immediately stand out as well. This is an opening number that immediately grabs the listener by the neck and says you’re not going anywhere. Hill sings with a healthy swagger that showcases the confidence she has developed. ‘Don’t Be the Sucker’ storms in on a bluesy electric guitar riff that is part vintage Rolling Stones, part Dylan, and part garage rock. Hill’s vocals hit that magic spot and pop in the live sounding mix. The chorus allows her a brief acapella spot to showcase her melody. The guitar solo makes me aware that my feet are tapping, and I am playing some air guitar. Pounding on the drums leads us into a killer vocal by Hill at the start of ‘Just Can’t Trust You.’ The guitar riffs slice and dice as Hill offers a great vocal over the pounding beat. The chorus simply melts into your brain. Closing my eyes, the sound of the album really lends itself to sounding like we are capturing an incredibly special live show, kind of like ‘Live at the Star Club’ by Jerry Lee Lewis.
Mixing things up completely, ‘Can’t Love You Back’ features a reggae beat and has grown on me with every listen. Hill showcases some dynamic versatility that really speaks to what a great singer she is. Matt Hill showcases some nice riffs throughout this one as well with Laura Chavez laying down guitar as well. ‘Holler Out Loud’ ushers in the end of the first half of the record with Hill displaying some soul and channeling the magical spirit of rock and roll. This is another chorus that gets stuck in the brain with some great electric guitar licks that falls somewhere between the blues greats, Chuck Berry, and Johnny Thunders.
‘Poisoning the Well’ gets the second half started with Hill and the drums introducing the song with some similar vocal phrasing to ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath before the rest of the band comes in on the back half of the verse. Hill is not rewriting the rulebook here or laying new ground. She is standing proud though on what has come before and asserting herself as a member of rock and roll royalty. There is a fire in these songs that just touches the soul with the guitar solo being just one example within this song. The pause before that last chorus is explosive and gets my adrenaline pumping every time. ‘Take the Ride (It Don’t Matter)’ continues to power the train down the tracks with urgency, passion, and some awesome layered backing vocals on the chorus for maximum effect. The slow electric guitar strum of ‘Tell the Next World’ immediately turns into a bluesy rock and roll boogie with Hill sounding like an angel who is perfectly within her element. Repeated listens really reveal just how special this album is and how lucky we are to be able to experience this.
The slow bluesy beat of ‘Might Get Killed Tonight’ gets the body moving and grooving. The hook is a little more subtle, but it just wraps itself around your brain a little bit more with each listen. Wrapping the album up way too soon is the pulsating ‘The Fire That’s in Me.’ This really serves as the perfect closer with the up-tempo beat allowing Hill to show off how she can nail those AC/DC covers live. Hill simply nails the vocals each and every time. The band is on fire with everyone feeding off one another for the perfect finale to this special album.
Nikki Hill may be a new name to many, but I don’t see how anyone could leave a show or listen to an album without immediately realizing that your musical world has been missing a vital ingredient. With a voice that can sound like velvet or coarse sandpaper, Hill is already a star; we all just need to hear her. This is one of those end of the year albums that makes you tear up your list of the best albums of the year because you realize you now have to start all over again to sort everything. Simply put, ‘Feline Roots’ showcases Nikki Hill as an artist that pours every ounce of her soul and spirit into her songs and performances. Highly, highly recommended.
Author: Gerald Stansbury