Pennies In a Jar
Nicholle Jean Leary, aka, Nikki Jean turns 27 years old this week. Her career began as a member of the indie hip-hop band Nouveau Riche, then as a featured performer on Lupe Fiasco’s album The Cool. She’s toured with Fiasco, Kanye West, and Rihanna. For her first solo album she takes an unexpected but inspired turn, teaming up with esteemed songwriters of the 1960s and ‘70s, taking on the style of each composer. Criss-crossing the country, from Nashville to Martha’s Vineyard,to California, she came away with dozens of songs and what must be stunning memories.
Pennies In a Jar features a pantheon of all-star writers including hit makers Bob Dylan and Carly Simon, and legendary composers Paul Williams, and Burt Bacharach, but the bulk of the songs feature creators of classic soul, from Philadelphia to Detroit. Some writers are better known then others, allowing Nikki Jean the chance to re-introduce the work of several overlooked composers. Pennies opens with “How To Unring a Bell” written with Thom Bell. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bell, along with Gambel and Huff, became an architect of the Philly Soul Sound of the seventies including writing the hits “Betcha By Golly, Wow,” and “You Are Everything.” His track features those melodic strings and horns that dominated soul radio and the discos of 35 years ago. Hop over to track #4 for a fly back to Detroit, circa 1965 as Nikki Jean teams up with Motown writer Lamont Dozier for “My Love." Tell me you can’t hear Martha Reeves or Diana Ross singing this one.
Super star composers are represented by Burt Bacharach and Paul Williams. Bacharach was the dominant hit maker of the 60’s -think “Walk On By,” “Say a Little Prayer,” and the Oscar winning “Raindrops Keep Following on My Head.” You’ll recognize his hand in the title track. Another Oscar, winning composer, williams wrote Barbra Streisand’s hit “Evergreen,” and hit songs for The Carpenters (“Rainy Days and Mondays”), and Helen Reddy (“You and Me Against the World”). His contribution is “Patty Crash.” Carly Simon, also an Oscar recipient for best song, co-writes “Sex, Lies and Sunshine. And lest we forget, Bob Dylan is also an Oscar winner. He sent Nikki Jean an unfinished song, inviting her to complete it. That song is “Steel and Feathers (Don’t Ever).” Jimmy Webb, who almost never collaborates, sat down with Ms. Nikki for “China.”
Several composers are less known but there work is no less impressive. Luigi Creatore, along with his partner Hugo Perretti wrote hit songs for Perry Como, Jimmie Rodgers, Sam Cooke,and Elvis Presley. His songs include “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” and Presley’s hit “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Together Nikki and Luigi come up with “La Di Da Di Da” a fun ditty featuring banjo, tuba, and honky tonk piano. Jeff Barry, who along with Phil Spector, helped define the girl group sounds of the ‘60s kicks in “What’s a Girl Supposed To Do. Brill Building superstars Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”) co-write “Mercy of Love.” Another Brill Building luminary – Carole King – who’s Tapestry album inspired this project, contributes “Rockaway.” Last but not least, Bobby Braddock, a member of The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters' Hall of Fame contributes the album's only rap track featuring Lupe Fiasco.