Niecie – Queen Of The Hill
Ride The Tiger Records – 2022
12 tracks; 48 minutes
Born in Detroit, Niecie has traveled far and wide in her career, having lived and played in Chicago, Las Vegas, Boston and Nashville. It was a chance encounter with Magic Slim that made her move from rock to blues and this is now her sixth album. Produced by former Allman Brothers keyboard player Johnny Neel, guitarist Doug Jones and Niecie herself, the album features a large number of players, including both the co-producers who were also involved in writing much of the original material here, along with Niecie and bassist Ger Hoffman. Other musicians include guitarists Chris Anderson (The Outlaws), John Conley and Luke Davis, bassists Randy Coleman and Dennis Gulley, drummers Daryl Davis and David Northup and backing vocalists Christine Neel and Melissa Alesi. Niecie handles lead vocals throughout in her particular style, an even, at times almost spoken, approach which works better on some songs than others, but does help her to avoid the vocal excesses that some singers adopt.
Niecie sounds a determined lady who knows what she wants as she describes herself on the title track: “some call it stubborn, I call it strong-willed”. Her semi-spoken style of singing allows her to create a dramatic story line, as she does to good effect on the Latin-inflected “Welcome To My Web” where you can sense her drawing in her ‘victim’! Strong slide guitar and keys provide musical drama and fire to “Hidden Agenda”, allowing Niecie to convince us that there are threats out there. Niecie examines female empowerment and recommends the need to be able to flex with the storms, just like a “Willow Tree”. “Every Kind Of Blues” is Johnny Neel’s co-write with Angela Russell and the heavier feel suits Niecie, backed by more strong keyboard and slide guitar work. Of the quieter songs “Nothing Left To Lose” is a winner with keening slide over warm keys and steady rhythm work.
There are three covers from icons of the blues world. Ruth Brown’s “5-10-15 Hours” has great piano work and Niecie carries the tune OK although her version lacks the sassy dynamism of Ruth’s original. Two more female greats (Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto) combined on the original “In The Basement” and, like in that original, the backing vocalists create a ‘live’ feel behind Niecie. Arguably the best of the three covers is an adaptation for a female vocalist of Albert King’s “The Hunter”, written for him by Booker T & The MGs during the Born Under A Bad Sign sessions; in an extended version Niecie is well supported by the band, the swirling keys, strong guitar and swaggering rhythm spurring her on to one of the best vocals of the album.