From the thirty-five second, funk-infused intro in her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compare 2 U,” to the languorous string arrangements and unmistakable sultry vocals channeling Lena Horne in the eye of a hurricane on album closer “Stormy Weather,” Nikka Costa demonstrates on track after stunning track of her new album <em>Nikka and Strings </em>that, even when interpreting a song made famous by another artist, she is thrillingly and inescapably herself.
<em>Nikka and Strings </em>is the latest milestone for an artist on a charmed and fascinating journey. As the daughter of legendary producer and arranger Don Costa, Nikka was born with music encoded in her DNA. Growing up around the likes of Frank Sinatra (her godfather), Paul Anka, and Sammy Davis Jr. (among many other musical luminaries), she was already a child star in Europe and had sung on the White House lawn with Sinatra before she was old enough to enroll in middle school. She recorded her first single, a Christmas duet with famed Hawaiian singer Don Ho, when she was just five years old. With the encouragement of her parents, she cut her eponymous debut album at eight, and her childhood in Los Angeles was punctuated by world travel and performances before enormous crowds. By just about any measure, it was an extraordinary way to come of age as both a woman and a musician.
Her new record <em>Nikka & Strings </em>is rooted in this legacy, but is most remarkable for how it marries the soulful dynamism of her previous work to her recent exploration of intimate performance. While playing an interim residency gig in 2016 at the Largo in L.A., Nikka rediscovered the sonic possibilities of playing live shows in small, intimate spaces. And, as the album's title makes clear, she also rediscovered the intoxicating beauty of strings. Never a stranger to orchestral performances and arrangements, she's philosophical about the magic that can be conjured when performing with a string quartet. “I was raised with strings, so the sound and feel come naturally to me,” she says. “There’s just something about the unforced, relaxed experience of listening to strings that people respond to.” The responses she and her fellow musicians received from audience members after performances at the Largo were remarkably positive and consistent. "People would bring their moms and their kids, they would come back to see the show multiple times," she says. "Many of them told me 'This is a different side of you.'"
For an album whose inception was essentially an accident, spawned from the rich intimacy of connecting with audiences at the Largo in L.A., <em>Nikka and Strings</em> is a testament to the creative potential of allowing ourselves the freedom and openness to be honest. For Nikka Costa, that honest exploration has led to the discovery of new artistic territory. As she puts it: “What started out as an excuse to do a couple of gigs while I tried to figure out what my next record was going to be about wound up snowballing into something all its own,” she says. “The making of this record has been a gift for me and I am so excited to share it with you.”