Nicki Gonzalez – Moron Love (2009)

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by Pico

Lately, a recent CD by Nicki Gonzalez has been getting out into wider release, this one being her first album in the newest phase of her varied music career: that of a solo hard-edged singer-songwriter. Washington, DC native and local star Gonzalez has been around the block a few times, delving into r&b/funk with The Magic Pocket Band, moving on with her brother Ira to form the jazz-oriented Nicki Gonzalez Group. After a couple albums under that moniker around the turn of millennium, Gonzalez re-tooled by sharpening up her songwriting skills, learned a little guitar to go with her keyboard know-how and applied the emotional and subtleties of jazz crooning to re-introduce herself on this attractive makeover of sorts, Moron Love.

Moron Love is a product of the small Pali Rose imprint, but that doesn’t keep Gonzalez from thinking major label record big with her aspirations for this record. Nicki brings to her craft the well-placed confidence and attitude of someone who earned it from hard work and experience. This songwriting contest winner, nightclub chanteuse and bandleader/member of groups covering everything from funk to punk brings it all to bear on this record. Moreover, she pulled in Ted Comerford to produce it and Matt Boswell to engineer it, and both did bang-up jobs in shaping clear, nuanced recordings that are fuss free and promote this artist’s vision without compromise.

Gonzales’ singing style is polished and very adaptable, but not so much that she doesn’t reach out to the listener. Chalk it up to all the jazz training, I suppose. So when she coos “don’t be afraid I’m not mad anymore/got it out of my system and I didn’t get caught” she leaves a pregnant trace of tension lingering. Or when she pouts “I’m putting my foot down, just as soon as he hands me my clothes,” she’s winking at us with grown-up wit.

Gonzalez herself will tell you that all that grounding in jazz prevents her from putting out music with empty calories, even if the music itself isn’t jazz. Her integrity also disallows her from all the songs sounding alike. The highlights are numerous. “You Love Her” is raw, guitar driven but tuneful melody that perfectly channels the retrospect and hurt that everyone goes through with heartache. A great way to start out a record. “Superstar” and “Accident” are more evidence that Gonzalez has been composing memorable tunes from a six-string, but retaining an edge (and some robust backing vocals, also by Gonzalez). The stirring lament “Jackie” is a ballad where she could have poured on the syrup, but she instead sounds defiant.

The flamenco flavored verses and swelling rock-choruses on “After Tonite” is a fanciful and original idea that works, and works well, actually. Even the horn-laden “Leave” has the ass-kicking drive of Chrissie Hynde. “Insomniac” closes out the album with a her most emotionally charged vocal performance, moving from sullen to guttural with control and punch.

So what if she ain’t no spring chicken? Neither am I, which probably a good reason why Moron Love is one of only a handful of rock records from a regional act that’s connected with me recently. For those whose tastes for rock lean more toward mature, well-crafted, no-nonsense songs with a little poignancy and cleverness, Nicki Gonzalez is the fix. From the town that whose best kept secret was Eva Cassidy until it was too late, here’s another secret worth getting the scoop on.

Visit Nicki’s myspace page here.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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