Archived Arts & Entertainment

Wide variety of influences leaves sump’m for everyone

By Chris Cooper

Let’s just go ahead and say it: terrible title for an album. Thankfully, a lot of the music on the disc is quite good, and even does have some soul, as noted in the press release. This is especially shocking since it came from Nashville, which hasn’t exactly been the epicenter of anything “soulful” for a good long while.

A Lil Sump’m Sump’m is 11 tracks of primarily light-hearted pop/rock/soul. But even within those stylistic constraints, Nicholson is all over the place. This musical multiple-personality syndrome may have something to do with his involvement (actually, he’s one of the founders) of MusikMafia, a group of musicians determined to break current artistic limitations in Nashville. They embrace country, rock, hip-hop, blues and “support any genre of music as long as it’s great.” The Mafia’s ranks include Nicholson, Big & Rich, Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson, Mista D and many others.

As far as the album goes, it opens strong with “Just A Man.” It’s a neat tune, and you’re not sure where it’s going in the intro, but it quickly settles into a nice little soul groove with acoustic, wah-wah, horns and some organ gluing it all together. The Al Green influence that permeates the majority of Nicholson’s vocals is immediately apparent, but there’s some other cool stuff in there — a little Adam Duritz when he belts it out, the tight stops after the last chorus: they all add up to a clever arrangement that works nicely.

“Love Is Alright” follows a very similar formula, with Nicholson channeling some Anthony Kiedis (a version that can actually sing, that is) in the verses, and tossing in some soprano sax fills (oops) to spice things up. “Rock & Roll” sufficiently changes things up — to an almost grating degree. But hey, it’s only two minutes and forty-five seconds. If you’ve got a thing for bleating bari sax in a crunchy rock setting (Morphine, anyone?) you’ll find something to like. “Grass River” mellows things out with a simpler acoustic groove, female harmony vocals, and the first of several not-so-subtle references to, um, “whacky tobakky.” That’s marijuana, folks. Try finding THAT on the new Brad Paisley album, eh?

The CD continues, delving into some more minor key funky pop tunes (as on “Take Me Back”) and a little humor in “Stereo,” where the narrator has a conversation with the guy that’s robbing his apartment, pleading with him to “just give me back my stereo.” One of the things I found myself doing, for better or worse, was playing “spot the influence” as I listened to the rest of the CD. Beatles? Sly and the Family Stone? Train? They’re all here! Sometimes with strings! There are some interesting choices made musically by Nicholson: the predictable “guitar solo” is almost always replaced by some form of saxophone, treated vocals, whacky panning and super compressed drums (check out “Nothing” to see what I mean) and the general rebellion against the modern Nashville sound, which could be described as “Def Leppard with a twang.” We can all thank a fellow named Mutt Lange for that. The album closer, “Grandma” details a ninety-two year old grandma’s first experience with... you guessed it, marijuana. This is the most back-porch country tune on the CD, and it ties things up pretty well.

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A Lil Sump’m Sump’m ends up to be an enjoyable listen, and you’ve got to not take it very seriously to get it. It sounds like it was a fun album to make, and Nicholson’s enthusiasm as a performer comes out in every song. It’s hard to say what the listening public will think of this music, but we’ll find out soon enough: Nicholson is currently on tour with “country” superstars Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson. If you can get past the title, and you want to hear some music that hails from Nashville but is working hard to fight the stigma the town in known for, get yourself A Lil Sump’m Sump’m. I can’t believe I just typed that. 3.5 stars.


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