Sometimes an album comes along that you would never have expected to move you. Maybe the colors on the cover are too funky, the album titles don’t really resonate with you, or you are just not in the mood to be touched by an unfamiliar sound or artist. For months, I’d heard friends tell me about this spunky white girl named Nikka Costa. “She’s bad”, they’d swoon, “you gotta hear her do her thing”.
Maybe because I saw Domenica “Nikka” Costa in concert first and watched her gyrate to the earthy sounds of her band while she belted out song after song, I was hypnotized by her sound. It’s possible that I fell in love with her voice because she is so inherently feminine and feminist at once, but also an amazingly modest artist. (Usually, I’m put off by anyone with low-slung jeans on that reveal “butt cleavage”, but on her they were almost expected.)
Costa has been singing since she was five. By the time she was seven, she was wooing crowds from Israel to Germany with her talent. From Chile to Milan, she managed to release several platinum albums internationally. Under the influence of her famed father, Don Costa, Nikka became a sensation overseas by the time she was an adolescent. In her mid-twenties, she lived in Australia and issued Butterfly Rocket in the mid-‘90s.
Now the red-headed soul siren has made her way to the US charts with Everybody Got Their Something. On this American debut she definitely proves she has her something: Costa is fierce without being overwhelming and passionate without leaning towards melodrama. This album also makes it clear that she is a child of the ‘70s: there is a free love, psychedelic-like tone to each of her songs, even the ballads. She is Frank Sinatra’s goddaughter after all, and spent sometime in the studio as a kid being groomed by the likes of Quincy Jones and Sly Stone—they certainly shaped her for greatness. Her raspy voice and stylish sensuality catapulted her into America’s living rooms with “Like a Feather”, a groovy track featured in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial. The barebones song is also the first on her seventh album and sets the tone for an exquisite journey through the jazzy, intergalactic world of this self-proclaimed “funky white bitch.”
There are moments on Everybody Got Their Something that Costa’s voice seems to transcend the beautiful and powerful instrumentation. “So Have I For You” is a powerful rock ballad that defines Costa as a poetic lyricist and an insightful voice. Lines like “I don’t need a gun / I gotta microphone and a melody or two” offer strong imagery and delicate metaphors. The lonely echoes of her intonations on this track are reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz riffs, right down to the guitar-heavy chorus: “Mama, you can chose the rain, but I choose the sun / That’s all I need to free myself”. The song ends with a rousing crescendo and electric guitar wailing, as Costa rivals the passionate tones of Janis Joplin. “Nothing” is a calmer, simpler ballad that achieves simplicity while striking a balance between evoking love and apathy. Her penchant for good old-fashioned soul is clear.
Nikka defines herself at her most lyrically and vocally mature on “Push and Pull”, a contemplative song about the contradictions that can sometimes overwhelm life: “You push and you pull and struggle with the knot / It ties you up while you’re fadin’”. “Tug of War” finds Nikka offering brasher tones than in many of her other songs. That sassy vibe fits the tone of the lyrics, but can be a bit sluggish, and sometimes the music overpowers her usually subtle sound. Her rougher side reveals itself here, and her raw passion is alluring. But Costa is more than just a passionate, funky-ass diva. She seems to have been a singer from the womb, and has voice control to rival the candy-coated, frivolous pop songs that have drained the remnants of soul from R&B and rock.
“Everybody Got Their Something” is an inspirational “shake-those-blues-off” song that will have you dancing out the door on Monday morning before you realize you’ve forgotten your keys. Nikka channels the funky bass of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1973 classic “If You Want Me to Stay” and rides the waves of the track perfectly. It is on this song that it is clear that Nikka is as free as she wants to be.
Everybody Got Their Something is a funky girl’s dream come true, and the average man’s telescope into the mind of a woman on the verge of becoming herself. This effort from Nikka Costa proves that her ability to fuse rock, folk and soul with attitude will be her legacy.
// Notes from the Road
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