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Nicole Hart & the NRG Band
Live! NRG

Running Time: 42:28

By Ben Cox

This band’s first effort, though recorded live, is mixed like it just came out of the studio. Save for some opening applause at the beginning of the first track, you wouldn’t believe this was a live recording! Lead singer/songwriter Nicole Hart has plenty of great credits under her belt as far as knowing the blues/R&B/soul world, living it, and being a part of it. (Hart is the only Caucasian singer to ever be a part of the classic R&B girl group The Shirells, as she was chosen by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Shirley Alston to fill the slot after an audition). Lance Ong, the band’s leader/arranger/producer also has arranged and written for more famous folks than I care to type, and then there is guest guitarist Gil Parris who’s won a Grammy and is one of only a few artists to have 4 major label albums on the market in 4 different genres.

With that said, let’s talk about this seven-track gift to the ears! The band’s opener is funky blues-progressed, world wise “I Heard” that demonstrates both the intelligence of writer Lance Ong and the control of the sensual, smoky, and smooth vocals Hart portrays throughout the course of the disc. Ong’s keys float over and around and between the spaces as Stanley Behrens presents some less-is-more-for-the-better harmonica leads and rhythms. Parris turns in some Albert King-inspired licks to further accentuate this groove. The band does a complete turnaround on Koko Taylor classic a la Susan Tedeschi-inspired “Voodoo Woman.” Hart’s usually rather smooth, sultry vocals takes on the brash, confidence and gravel of a woman empowered. The attitude typifies the fast-growing appeal of the band’s sharp-paced, high energy performances. Hart demonstrates her songwriting abilities on “Treasure,” turning in a passionate and heartfelt R&B groove that gives a great story to any woman who has ever found their man kicked to the curb by another. “Every Night of the Week” is as classic blues as it gets, but not stale by any means. This slinking blues shuffle adds a dose of jazz and sexuality around the dynamics of Hart’s well-controlled and defined vocals. Rich Cohen, the other guest guitarist on the track, produces work that stands next to the more renowned Parris equally.

The real reach-down-and-get em’ track comes from another staple out of the fellow Northeastern native Susan Tedeschi songbook. Originally penned by Tom Hambridge, “It Hurt So Bad” would grab the attention of any classic R&B/soul fan for its yearning lyrics and howling vocals. Hart gives it a new spin by adding spacing in the lyrics calling up hints of Bobby Bland and Aretha Franklin on the way. The space that she provides in the phrasing demonstrates both her command and the band’s precise movements throughout the disc. Cohen, again, gives some wonderful reverb drenched solo work, adding again to the classic R&B/soul feel that seems to pull from Hart’s origins and the band’s core.

Bobby Bland, Ann Peebles, and the Malaco Records sound also come to mind with the soul-blues of the sixth track “Think About Love.” The final track is a nod to Hart’s homeland of Georgia and the Allman Brothers, demonstrating Lance Ong’s virtuousity on keys and the bands in-the-pocket rhythm section on the instrumental “Hot ‘Lanta.”

The virtuosity and command of all players in this band, leaves one wondering why and when this band will break into the national attention that it most certainly deserves.


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