Nikka Costa - Pebble to a Pearl (Advance Review) (2008)

Nikka Costa
Nikka_Costa_Pebble_to_a_Pearl_Album.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

On a tour stop in New York City in 2005, Nikka Costa explained the chasm between the music she wanted to make and the kind of music Virgin, her label at the time, wanted her to record. "Why do you have to scream like that?," she said, was a not infrequent question that label brass would ask her. Her fusion of soul-inflected funk and rock, while clearly influenced by artists that no record label executive could dismiss, proved to be too challenging for Virgin to market properly. can'tneverdidnothin' (2005), her second album for the label, evaporated as quickly as it landed. She left the label and changed management.

On a tour stop in New York City in 2005, Nikka Costa explained the chasm between the music she wanted to make and the kind of music Virgin, her label at the time, wanted her to record. "Why do you have to scream like that?," she said, was a not infrequent question that label brass would ask her. Her fusion of soul-inflected funk and rock, while clearly influenced by artists that no record label executive could dismiss, proved to be too challenging for Virgin to market properly. can'tneverdidnothin' (2005), her second album for the label, evaporated as quickly as it landed. She left the label and changed management.

The newly reinvigorated Stax label is far better fit for Nikka Costa. Eschewing Top 40 hit-single making methodology, Pebble to a Pearl is a true reflection of Costa's artistic convictions. There are no obvious contrivances or creative compromises. One pre-release image for the album depicts Costa at the control board looking into the studio. Though Justin Mitchell Stanley excels as the album's producer, the album is wholly informed by Costa's sensibilities.

Pebble to a Pearl is a likely stop in the evolution of Nikka Costa. (Quick history lesson: Costa was a child star across Europe before earning critical and commercial success in Australia during the ‘90s.) Everybody Got Their Something (2001), her North American debut on Virgin Records, brought songs like "Like a Feather" and "Some Kind of Beautiful" to the attention of soul music-seeking audiences. The follow-up, can'tneverdidnothin' featured an even more voltaic brew of songs, including her cover of Ike & Tina Turner's "Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter" and the strutting funk of "Happy in the Morning." Despite being one of the hardest-working live performers, Nikka Costa's success onstage didn't translate to monstrous record sales.

While neither of Costa's Virgin releases could be considered overly affected or filler-ridden, Pebble to a Pearl is the most consistently tight album of the three, in terms of quality and execution. The musicians effortlessly navigate along with Costa on her musical sojourns: the fun, riddle-laden frolic into the land of ‘60s soul ("If you are soul, I'll be your Otis Redding") on "Stuck on You," the bluesy swagger of "Love to Love You Less," and the space-age funk of "Damn I Said It First." These are only a few of the places Costa travels to across the album's twelve tracks.

Exceptional material abounds on Pebble to a Pearl. "Can't Please Everybody" summons the rock priestess side of Costa's personality while the intense slow burn of "Someone For Everyone" intertwines her hopes, vulnerability, and strength. "Keep Pushin'," one of the album's most contagious tracks that commences the album's second half, is a buoyant retort to the music industry. "When they say, ‘Go away. We don't need no one like you,' keep pushin'," she sings sassily. If Pebble to a Pearl was released as an LP, most listeners would lift the needle up and start side B over again. "Keep Pushin'" is that infectious.

"Pebble to a Pearl," with its "Boogie On Reggae Woman"-type synth., is the funk epicenter of the album. An ode to blazing one's own trail, it underscores how Costa has remained true to herself, even if the industry is slow to catch on. To paraphrase a line from the title track, Nikka Costa goes and beats her drum on Pebble to a Pearl. With every tap on the skins, she makes a noise no listener will soon forget.

By Christian John Wikane

 
Album of the Month - Juewett Bostick - Shades of Blu
Choice Cut - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Song of the Month - Bryan Andrew Wilson - "Only You'

Leave a comment!