Thursday, January 19, 2006

Keep It Like A Secret

Sugar Sweet Sunshine
Nicole Willis, 2004. © Jimi Tenor

Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators - "If This Ain't Love (Don't Know What It Is)" (mp3)
(for more sound samples and/or to purchase, click here)

The truth is it's not even in the current line-up. Still, the effect is save-it-for-a-sunny-day, "Ooh, won't this be perfect for March 20?"

Time has always been a slippery subject for Nicole Willis. She started her career in the mid-'80s, performing alongside members of The Brand New Heavies before much of their notable success. Meeting Super DJ Dimitri in the late '80s, she sang in an early line-up of Deee-Lite. Her timing with the Repercussions was impeccable, whose hit "Promise" led her to collaborate with Curtis Mayfield before his passing. Yet, since then she has been heard from only sporadically in the States.

Not to take Willis out of the running. She has been living and working in Finland for several years, releasing six solo albums since 2000. Now, she has a fantastic flash of funk'n soul, Keep Reachin' Up. Featuring an ensemble of Finns, Willis wraps herself in the warmth of analog sounds, sparkles with brass horns and shuffles to lockstep Papa Zita drums. For a generation brought up on the likes of Sharon Jones and entire labels dedicated to the Silver Age of Sound, she may come off Janey-Come-Lately. No dice, Willis is on her own, sounding younger and exuding a disarming vulnerability in her voice. "If This Ain't Love" is the lead single, ripe with springtime exultations and flute explorations. The intro alone is a calm pulse and quick roll-out from under the bed covers, the perfect wake-up remedy for those afraid of the cold. Come to think of it, I just convinced myself why this should be in my current rotation...

Special thanks to Jukka Sarapää.


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