Gillian Nicola is a fledgling recording artist though apparently performing since she was 13. ‘Dried Flowers’ is her first full-length album though there have been two previous E.Ps, ‘No Place to Call’ from 2016 and ‘Chasing Winds’ from 2013. In fact, the final track of the former, ‘Stay’, could well be a standout in her career so far – worth checking out.
Nicola hails from Hamilton Ontario and trained in ‘classical voice’ and started off singing Joplin and Zeppelin covers before heading in her current direction and writing her own material. ‘Dried Flowers’ features Nicola’s core band, Bruce Scavuzzo (bass), Justin Han (drums), John Dinsmore (banjo), Drew Jurecka (string arrangements), Aaron Goldstein (pedal steel), Gord Tough (electric guitar), Rosalyn Dennett (fiddle), Emily Rockarts (keyboards) and Alyson McNamara (backing vocals). Gord Tough – now there’s a name to conjure with!
There is no truly standout playing, but the musical arrangements are on the mark and prove good backing to Nicola’s powerful and emotive vocals. To call it ‘tasteful’ might be considered faint praise – which would be wrong. Nicola is a really talented vocalist – unfortunately, though, in such a highly competitive and crowded field it takes something really exceptional to truly standout.
Nicola’s biography talks of her development as an artist and songwriter and hopefully we can see this offering as a sign of even better to come. Judging by her résumé Nicola’s life revolves around music – teaching voice and guitar, volunteering for Girls Rock Camp Toronto, sitting on the City of Hamilton’s Music Advisory Sub-Committee (that sounds interesting and I wonder if we replicate that in this country?), hosting open microphone nights and running a monthly songwriters’ round at Toronto’s The Painted Lady.
What can prove irritating is receiving review copies of albums that tout their lyrical content while offering little or nothing in the way of a lyric sheet. And unfortunately, here’s another one. Perhaps it’s the result of the advent of the CD but one of the joys of listening to vinyl is / was the high likelihood of being able to view some written lyrics.
Nevertheless, the songs on ‘Dried Flowers’ are, we are told, about relationships, friendships and family history (a visit to Nicola’s grandmother’s birthplace, Brentwood, Essex, inspired ‘Woodman Road’), as well as the life of a touring musician. “They are all about self-discovery in different ways”, Nicola says, “About coming into my own.”
Opening track ‘Ashes’ highlights the soulful side of her voice with pedal steel to the fore, as it is in much of the album; by way of contrast ‘New Light’ has a folksy feel. Showing the range of her voice ‘Half Way’ illustrates how Nicola might have done justice to those Joplin and Zeppelin numbers – the track rocks out in fine style. The associated ‘On the Line’, though one of the weaker tracks, also sees a fine wailing vocal. ‘Night Comes to Call’ has a great hook and is the standout track on the album. ‘Woman on the Side’ deals with the temptations of infidelity – the final track ‘She Stays Silent’, addresses the ‘Me Too’ agenda and finishes with an unusual and effective chorus.
This is a fine album, with a good voice at its core. It is not a reflection of its musical quality but, nonetheless, the story of how Nicola financed this release through Kickstarter makes interesting reading, especially if you believe that independent music is important. The album, though, stands on its own merits and is unlikely to disappoint if, for instance, someone like Neko Case is to your taste.