“Mockingbird Lane” – Danni Nicholls
Do you ever have that feeling that you should really like an album because everyone else likes it, but you can’t seem to grasp why it’s so popular? That’s the way I feel about this album. Before anyone gets offended, I have to say there isn’t a bad song on the album, the musicians are some of Nashville’s finest (including Chris Donohue, Bryan Owings, Will Kimbrough and Stephen Leiweke) and Danni Nicholls is rated very highly by many country performers and insiders, but my buttons remain defiantly unpressed. I’m not even saying I don’t like “Mockingbird Lane”; I think the problem for me is that everything sounds just a little bit too refined, a little bit too well-polished with no rough edges or sharp corners to offer a contrast to the smooth balance of the album. Across all eleven tracks, absolutely nothing jars but, equally, nothing grabs my attention and forces me to listen.
Seven of the eleven songs on the album are co-writes with a variety of other artists and maybe what’s happening is that Danni’s originality is being pressed (knowingly or not) into a Nashville pop format by her collaborators. Of the four solo writes, the opener “Long Road Home” with the theme of going back home after originally running away and “Leaving Tennessee”, with some tasteful finger-picked guitars and mandola, feel more personal than the rest of the album while “Sad Swan” uses a metaphor of a cygnet on the river before its time to represent someone who isn’t ready for a relationship. These songs feel like there’s genuine Danni DNA in there, and that’s not something you can say for the rest of the album.
There are a couple of songs that pretty much sum up my reaction to the album and one of them is “Back to Memphis”. There’s some lovely piano on the track, but there’s a line ‘Want to hear a song where the words don’t rhyme’ which you wish had been applied occasionally; a non-rhyme or an unexpected rhyme or an unusual metaphor occasionally would have made such a difference. Just the title of “Beautifully Broken” is illustrative; broken, but with a few missing pieces or ragged edges might pique the interest a little more than the pristine country pop served up here.
There’s a lot to like about this album, but not really enough to love; true, it’s only Danni Nicholls’ second album and I’m looking forward to hearing what the future holds. Her voice is already superb and when the material truly matches the voice, she will be a formidable force.
“Mockingbird Lane” is out on October 23rd on Danni Nicholls Music (DNM001).