Album reviews

Nicky Schrire – ‘Nowhere Girl’

Nicky Schrire – Nowhere Girl

(Anzic Records – review by Bruce Lindsay)

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Almost ten years. That’s how long it’s been since singer and songwriter Nicky Schrire last released some music. Now she’s back with Nowhere Girl, a digital-only release combining nine of her own compositions with two well-chosen covers. The result is a beautifully realised collection of songs, with insightful, often highly personal, lyrics given further impact by melodic and sympathetic instrumentalists.

Schrire hasn’t been idle in the intervening years since 2014, she’s been travelling, teaching, tweeting, writing and interviewing (her ‘Mothers in Jazz’ series for LondonJazz News has now featured more than forty musicians and singers). After time spent in London, South Africa and New York, Schrire is now living in Canada and recorded this album in Toronto in 2021. She’s accompanied on Nowhere Girl by a core trio of pianist Chris Donnelly, bassist Daniel Fortin and drummer Ernesto Cervini, who play with impressive sensitivity and sympathy throughout. Saxophonist Tara Davidson, who gives a great performance on ‘Closer to the Source,’ guitarist Julio Sigauque and singer Laila Biali (a recent interviewee for Mothers in Jazz) all make contributions on individual tracks.

Schrire has been releasing one song a week as tasters for Nowhere Girl and she’s been taking to social media to explain some of the background to the songs. In brief posts or YouTube videos she has revealed, for example, that the deceptively simple ‘Keep it Simple,’ a voice and piano duet with Donnelly’s piano chords sitting perfectly alongside Schrire’s voice, was inspired by a combination of Mary Poppins and Randy Newman (my first thought was a cross between Newman and Fran Landesman).

The songs are refreshingly diverse. ‘My Love,’ featuring Sigauque and Davidson, is an ode to Cape Town. The title of ‘Love is for the Birds’ suggests some cynicism in the lyrics, but the reality is more complex as Schrire moves on from the birds to the foolish, the brave, the ‘free and crazy few’ and the trio drives the song along with verve. Don’t waste your time with love, Schrire concludes, but it sounds like the advice of a romantic, not a cynic. The song is inspired by the Beatles, and especially McCartney’s ‘Blackbird,’ which may explain the reference to something ‘broken and so small.’

‘Traveler’ is a highlight. It first appeared a decade ago, on an EP titled To the Spring, and tells of the last stages of a relationship between someone who spends their life on the road and someone else who stays in one place, waiting for the first to return so they can write some more songs together. Eventually, the stay-at-home waits no longer, moves to the seaside, and imagines the return of the traveller who must now ‘sit in empty rooms, writing songs for me.’ Schrire has revisited the original, adding drums to give a fuller sound. It’s reminiscent lyrically of Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s ‘Superstar,’ a hit for the Carpenters and possibly the finest thing that duo ever recorded. However, ‘Traveler’ features a more worldly and empowered narrator, one who turns the tables on the wandering other.

Biali joins Schrire on a cover of Anna McGarrigle’s ‘Heart Like a Wheel,’ which Linda Ronstadt has also covered. The vocal partnership is perfectly judged, the voices blending and harmonising beautifully on this heart-breaking song. Another highlight, on an album that impresses on every level.

LINK: Nowhere Girl on Bandcamp

The “Behind the Song” video series is on YouTube

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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