Music: CD of the Week: Nikka Costa

Everybody's Got Their Something

Jul 5, 2001 at 2:06 pm

I have heard the wailing voice of Mary Magdalene and she's a tricked-out, henna-haired, freaky music soulchild named Nikka Costa.

Costa, with her Dirty Mind-era stage antics, Janis Joplin sex appeal and organic funkiness, is a fresh package of voice, songwriting skills and real talent in this post-Morissette/Badu age of the female singer/songwriter.

Her voice — sometimes a squawk tweaked by studio trickery and more often an assured, sarcastic alto — is similar in its achy tone to Sheryl Crow's.

Her music on Everybody's Got Their Something is, each time, a thundering crescendo of stadium-worthy guitars, bass and drums. The caveat is there's an underlying groundswell of authentic 1970s Soul and the New Jack Swing of brothers holdin' it down in Philadelphia.

Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson (the funky drummer from the Roots as well as everyone from D'Angelo to Badu), James Poyser, Pino Palladino and even Billy Preston propel this record through genre after genre.

Luckily nothing is sacrificed or lost during the venture. "So Have I For You" sounds like the typical chick's post-Lilith Fair manifesto until it dissolves into a Drum 'n Bass ether.

The current single and CD opener, "Like a Feather," owes as much in its unadulterated stank to Prince and James Brown as it does in its restrained, I-can't-tell-it-all Soul to Tina Turner, Joplin and even Teena Marie.

Costa's music is smart.

Not only because its producers (including Costa herself) have the sensibilities to bring in real musicians to recreate the sonic walls they bang their own heads against, but also because in its fluttering changes it reflects the way we feel now. That is, none of us feel precisely the same from moment to moment and neither does this music. Yet, it's all familiar without being ruthlessly derivative.

Within it there is the subtlety of poetry, the helpless ickiness of love, the frustration of separation and the adult's eye view of the whole reality of daily life.

This is probably best illustrated in the lyrics of "Tug of War:" "My soul wants to go one way/But my heart and mind playing a tug of war with me baby."

And just when you're lulled by the minimalist tone of the song it rips into a Thrash/Metal bridge which then slides into a sea of violins while Costa yelps, "...with the rage that's among us when we come of age/There's nothing I don't know, just hasn't come to me yet/We're only trying to remember what we chose to forget." It sounds like a nervous breakdown feels.

The title tune comes on sounding like a cross between a calliope and Sly and the Family Stone's "Family Affair," complete with the follow-the-bouncing-ball bassline and sneaky-Pete guitar riffs. And just like "Family Affair," it's a sunny day song on the surface with a cautionary tale at its core.

Costa tailors her voice to fit the crevices of each different song. She's an assured Funk singer in the vein of Chaka Khan but without nearly all the runs and yelps.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all the Funky noise Costa makes here my personal favorites are the quieter, more bittersweet tunes, "Nothing," "Just Because," "Push & Pull" and "Corners of My Mind."

These songs really showcase Costa's songwriting skills and vocal prowess without all the smoke and mirrors. They are the slower, honky-tonk, cryin'-in-my-beer songs you play in the dark by yourself on a Friday night when you don't feel like being bothered. They are the antidote to the mania. They're proof she's not only got the chops, but the sheer talent to last awhile.

There is, however, a throw-away cut in "Hope It Felt Good." The album is rather brief and would not have suffered from leaving it off. Otherwise, this is a stellar debut from a singer/songwriter and even performance artist (check out the video for "Like a Feather," now in heavy rotation) who'd blow up if everyone else would jump on Costa's sticky, rollicking bandwagon.

When you tire of the vapid sugar of Janet Jackson's video sex and the manufactured glossy bling of Missy Elliot, check out Costa and free your mind.

Your ass will follow. I guarantee it.