Nicki Richards | Tell Me...

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Tell Me...

by Nicki Richards

"Tell Me..." showcases the formidable production and arranging talents of Nicki Richards, one of the most highly respected singers in the music business. Special guests include Randy Brecker, Christian McBride, Lenny White and Take 6.
Genre: Urban/R&B: Rhythm & Blues
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1. Queen
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2. Knight in Shining Armor
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3. Lay Your Hands On Me
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4. Kiss Kiss Kiss
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5. We Got Each Other
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6. Tell Me...
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7. Sunday Morning
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8. Precious
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9. Extraordinary
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10. Spaceship
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11. Extra O2 (Interlude)
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12. Hungry
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13. Change in the World
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14. Surely
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Nicki Richards – Tell Me…
An Introduction

“Color me a world / Make it all appear / Fill my dreams with kings and queens and castles…
million miles from here” – Nicki Richards (from “Tell Me” - penned upon and inspired from
Herbie Hancock’s classic melody “Tell Me a Bedtime Story”)

Wise ones once professed, “A Jill of many trades `tis a master of none.” Said
philosophers never met Nicki Richards – most extraordinary and highly favored
Spin Sorceress Supreme…Her Majesty of the Musical Moon and Stars…aboard
her Stone Soul Spaceship. Planet hopping genres with panache and purpose, the
wizardress waxes thoughtful and deep, fun and flirtatious, spiritual yet seductive,
constantly tested yet steadfastly faithful. Nicki is never at a loss for a song. The
latest luscious fruit of her inspiration is Tell Me… - Nicki’s third album and the
second via her own Hydrus Music company following 2008’s Nicki.

The most important thing to know about Nicki Richards – The Musician – is
that she records luxuriantly expansive modern soul music. And when you drop
the metaphorical needle on said record, OVERSTAND that this lady composed,
produced, arranged, played and SANG (leads and layered backgrounds) 80%
of every note you hear…then custom-casted the remaining 20% with a talented
rainbow of friends – from jazz legends Randy Brecker, Christian McBride and
Lenny White to vocal virtuosos Take 6, Trey Lorenz, Lisa Fischer, Tawatha
Agee, Fonzi Thornton and Vaneese Thomas to dance club tastemakers Tony
Moran, Parrish James, Josh Harris and DJ Inferno.

The most important thing to know about Nicki Richards – The Woman – is that
she is all about The Love. For the teasingly titled Tell Me…, she takes a skin dive
under the covers to explore what a woman dreams when imagining The Love of a
Lifetime.

“My original title was A Wish, A Dream…,” she shares. “I started thinking about
the ideal relationship – ‘when things are on-and-poppin’, what does that feel like’
- in hopes of manifesting something better than what I had. It began to feel like a
wonderful concept for an album…then the songs just started flowing.”

The album opens with “Queen,” as easily every woman’s theme as Nicki’s
own “womanifesto.” Violins & cellos dance a courtship minuet as Nicki lays out a
regal affirmation and the conditions a prospective king must meet to stand by her
side.

“O but you must be sure / You must understand all I endure / All the lonely nights of conquering
/ How I need someone to handle me / And treat me like the queen I am /
And love me as I command”

“I was just vibing off the grand films of Sofia Coppola, Cate Blanchett and Helen
Mirren, and got carried away to another time,” she states on behalf of the song’s
inspiration. “All of these characters led such intense lives. Queen Elizabeth was a
serious conqueror…but she was so lonely. Or Marie Antoinette having everything
but still being so alone. Many women feel this. Well, like many in my culture, I
was raised to be an African American queen - and I deserve to have it all.”

On cue appears “Knight in Shining Armor,” an older song of Nicki’s that’s
time arrived as the perfect answer to “Queen.” Drenched in the aural luxuriance
of Nicki’s lushly layered vocals and a musical Hejaz fantasia of literature’s
classic “Scheherazade” and “1001 Arabian Nights,” it represents a space and time
that Nicki loves to visit when sizing up the hero of her dragon-slayer dreams.

With rave anthem written all over it, the album’s first single “Lay Your Hands
On Me” dually conjures the sensual and the spiritual - imageries of surrender and
healing as our heroine dances upon a cloud, Heaven-bound. “I’m more a spiritual
person than religious,” Nicki confesses, “but I found myself turning to the Bible
more than once while making this record. I was re-reading stories about Mary
Magdalene, and the woman that touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was healed
forever. That feeling is what this song is really about.”

On the other hand, “Kiss Kiss Kiss” – destined to be the international all-points
pop breakthrough that Nicki has long deserved - is all about the union of lips as
euphoric overture to romantic symphonies of endless movements and variations.
“‘Kiss Kiss Kiss’ came out of a relationship I was in that was hot and heavy,” she
swoons. “I was also reminded of first love…first kisses…how that feels in the pit
of your stomach and wanting to revisit that feeling…again and again.” Nicki sings
AND raps on this irresistible ode to lovers’ favorite pastime that will take its place
at the chart top alongside Rihanna and Beyonce’ hits. “Kiss on this…”

Back in Dance Land, Nicki teams with singer Trey Lorenz – her sidekick from
many tours singing backup for Mariah Carey – on “We Got Each Other,” a joy-
filled high stepper she co-wrote with Everett Bradley as a tribute to her younger
brother, Philip, and their ever-strengthening bond of sibling-ship: “I’m so glad
there’s a you in my life...” Interpolating a hook from an album cut classic that
Chaka Khan and her little brother Mark Stevens co-wrote and sang called “We Got
Each Other” (from Khan’s LP What `Cha Gonna Do For Me – 1981), Nicki and
company, are having an audible ball. “We were acting a fool in the studio playing
follow the leader,” Nicki signifies, “so effortless! We laughed more than we sang.”

The album centerpiece is “Tell Me,” a soundscape out of the sweetest of dreams...
It finds Nicki weaving spark and homage in her honorable wedding of a lyric to the
timeless melody of jazz piano chameleon Herbie Hancock’s 1969 chestnut, “Tell
Me a Bedtime Story.” What was written decades ago by Hancock as score music
for Bill Cosby’s “Fat Albert” Saturday cartoon is interpreted here as the grown-
up dreams of a woman still very much in touch with the dreaming child inside
her. “Like ‘Parallel Universe’ on my last album, I was thinking, ‘What would I
like to feel in my perfect universe?’ Those chord changes and that melody were
exactly what I wanted to hear. Then I thought, ‘Now how can I get more of me in
there, R&B style?’” What Nicki created in her otherworldly melding of keyboard
and synthesizer textures feels like the surround sound comforter of the spheres…
Hancock will be moved. “My favorite part of the arrangement is the song just
grooving along when - all of a sudden - the bottom drops out, you’re freefalling
then Randy Brecker takes over playing all that beautiful Flugelhorn… with all
of this space around him. I felt pretty bold doing that – just caressing him with
ambient keyboard sound. Then at the ending fade into the ‘la-la’ children’s round
with the music box melody…that’s what my dreams sound like.”

“Tell Me” pours like warm massage oil into “Sunday Morning,” an evocative
lyric reflecting fleeting indulgences of intimacy. Ever imagined what an encounter
between Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Miles Davis and Ron Carter might
sound like? Your wish is Richards’ command, featuring an encore from Brecker
(this time on muted trumpet), the seamless tandem coloring of percussionist
Bashiri Johnson and drummer Lenny White, the ubiquitous Christian McBride
plucking playfully mesmerizing upright bass, and Nicki accompanying the serene
ache of her singing at the piano.

“Kiss me ‘til I’m breathless / Flood each of my senses / Evening dare not end this /
Endless morning…”

Men will melt at the next pair of songs - sentiments that lift them high enough to
kiss the sky. First is the smoldering funk of “Precious” featuring Nicki tapping
into some Bobby Debarge-inspired falsetto crooning, some tangy blues guitar from
Robin Macatangay and a wicked second verse couplet:

“Wrapped up in our sheets / How I love the way we move / You’re digging into me /
Like the rarest vinyl groove”

This is followed by the more 360-degree love praise of “Extraordinary,” a
number that packs a powerful punch as it builds to a soulful and brassy finish
worthy of a Broadway finale. The Chops Horns quartet (arranged by Nicki with
member Daryl Dixon) sees to that. And like that arrangement, “Extraordinary”
began life as a seed that took on a growth spurt all of its own. “I originally wrote
it as a contemporary jazz instrumental,” Nicki reveals, “a ballad with a vocal hook
for a keyboardist I was working with. I fleshed out all that wistful Sly Stone-styled
piano with some horns I dreamt up thinking of Earth Wind & Fire. The song is my
way of honoring exceptional men in my life – from friendships and relationships.”

“Extraordinary” comes back in the sexier ‘slight return’ of “Extra 02 (interlude)”
… later.

Now you KNOW there had to be some funk up in here and Nicki drops it
on ya HOT with a song about her trusty 12-seater heater of a “Spaceship.”
A Holidelic Galaxian from way back, Commander Richards pilots only the
hippest, horns-driven, Don Cornelius-approved, in-flight throw-downs - fueled
by Sherrod Barnes’ high-octane guitar and Artie Reynolds humpin’ on That
Bass. “That groove goes back to my teens,” Nicki declares, referencing its original
coordinates. “I used to sing it under a different song. My brother Philip recognized
it and called me on it. It’s since spiraled into a whole new thang!””

After an excursion of such Uncut Funk propulsion – taking err’body to The
Bridge and dropping them off safe in sound “On The One” – Her Majesty could
have but one Final Destination for the one worthy passenger that remains – The
Motherland. All the delicious extended foreplay leads to the carnal culmination of
“Hungry.” “Imagine a woman’s body as the continent of Africa,” she suggests
with a now-quiet intensity. “She’s in love…desirous…and long in need of release.
Time to make the rain pour down…” As David Mann’s wanton tenor parts the
waves then Lisa Fischer’s and Greg Clark’s voices mist the earthen bed, Nicki
ascends the ladder of passion with a rivetingly modulated vocal, topped with the
tangiest cherry of a spoken word breakdown.

“My skin hungers for your skin / Hungers to feel your touch / I can’t get close enough /
(So) Hungry for your love…”

There’s nowhere left to ascend except to higher philosophical planes as Nicki
plumbs her inner Al Green & Gandhi to impart a message about how progress on
this troubled planet can be achieved once we become the “Change in the World.”
Joined by the formidable Amen corner of Tawatha Agee, Vaneese Thomas and
Fonzi Thornton, Nicki hammers her point home with Isisian Thunder:

“Don’t let the pills and the lies / Keep people falling asleep / And when the system is wrong /
Stand up! Say what you believe / We’ve got to open our eyes / Don’t let corruption dictate /
Tear the roof off the truth / Love is stronger….Love is stronger than anything”

“Surely” - the final song on Tell Me - stands alone as a deeply personal piece
representing The Light that pulled Nicki from a seemingly ceaseless night during
a heavy period of grieving. Between her 2008 CD Nicki and this one, Richards
lost several friends and musical associates, her Aunt, her Grandfather... and her
Father. “I wrote ‘Surely’ for my grandfather who passed around the same time as
Michael Jackson,” she says softly. “I was sad I couldn’t go to his funeral because I
was on the road. I was in Israel…standing at the Wailing Wall just crying thinking
about him and all of the people I’d lost. I started reciting Psalm 23 as a comfort.
I later read other Psalms in the Bible and found phrases that were inspiring - of
people trying to hold on to their faith. I lifted those thoughts and strung them
together into ‘Surely.’”

“Surely” features a brilliant signature vocal performance from very special guest
ensemble Take 6, and a robust overdubbing of hand drumming and percussion by
Everett Bradley. The song provided her a chance to stretch her vocal arranging
skills.”Take 6 recorded their parts at their studio in Nashville. I sent them my vocal
sketch then Mark Kibble arranged it to the nth degree! I’m proud of my basic
framework - I wrote it with them in mind, voicing the chords in their style. I sent
my demo with a note that read, ‘Don’t laugh at my rough T6 ideas, now!’ I’m sure
Mark got a good laugh out of that. Everett is playing all kinds of crazy percussion
and I have a loop in there, too. I wanted the track to have an arranged feel over a
tribal feel. There’s beauty and faith in there but also some darkness - mostly in the
bass. My people are from New Orleans where there’s always a hint of danger. I
had to have a pinch of that…amidst all the glory.”

*****

Dreaming big panned out like solid gold for Diamond Girl Nicki Richards.

As one of the most highly respected singers in the business, Nicki has traveled
around the globe spreading musical love shine in multiple languages for sessions,
concerts, film and television, and at the service of an untouchable array of
superstars that includes Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Mariah Carey,
Jimmy Cliff, Mick Jagger, Chris Botti, Florence + The Machine and Enrique
Iglesias…names representing merely the tip of a staggering mountaintop of talent.
Nicki recently arranged and recorded a transfixing, kalimba-drenched rendition of
John Lennon & Paul McCartney’s “I’ll Be Back” to the multi-artist collective
project The Complete Beatles on Ukulele. With longtime mentor Lenny White,
she co-wrote and sang a highly unique jazz-rock fusion tribute to “King of Pop”
Michael Jackson (another artist for whom she has sung) titled “Forever” (from
White’s 2010 CD, Anomaly). And for the fourth time, Nicki is jetting around
the globe with superstar Madonna on her “2012 MDNA World Tour” as a
background singer and featured belting the cleansing coda of her smash hit “Like a
Prayer” - before hundreds of thousands of people on especially epic nights.

Wedding boundless creativity to fierce professionalism and the kind of personality
that makes everyone all day suckers for her love, Nicki Richards has stealthily
commanded her rightful position in the upper echelons of international R&B/Pop/
Dance music. She is also on the National Board of Trustees of The Recording
Academy so her juice runs like bottomless mimosas at Sunday brunch.

“I’m so blessed to be a working musician and to have been so successful for
such a long time,” she offers humbly. “I’ve developed so many relationships
from my studio work, touring, television performances, musical theatre (Cy
Coleman’s “Like Jazz”) and movies (“Colorz of Rage”). Those are all places in
which I live and thrive. That’s becoming more and more the case today. We must
be diverse.”

As the Hawaii-born daughter of a high-ranking African American Naval officer,
Nicki has lived in places all over the world – from California to Pensacola. All of
that moving was daunting but provided Nicki with priceless insights into people
that shaped her vision and outlook on the world.

The depth of Nicki Richards' artistry stems from her indigenously musical family.
Her mother Donna Blackmon is a professional singer who sang with Cannonball
Adderley – a ringer for Nancy Wilson who subbed on dates that the superstar could
not make with the alto sax giant. Nicki's grandmother, Lurlean Blackmon was a
pianist, organist and the choir director for five Primitive Baptist churches. Nicki's
baby brother Philip Richards is a singer/musician who fronts the rock band Status
Joe. And Nicki's father Harry Richards, while not a musician, had an incredibly
eclectic taste in music (Ahmad Jamal, Rare Earth, WAR, John Coltrane, America,
etc.) that shaped Nicki's taste as well.

Nicki's father cast a looming shadow to the core of her insatiable drive toward
excellence. "He always expected me to be more,” Nicki states. “When it came to
school work, he'd say, ‘B isn't going to make it. Where is the A?' Then I'd bring
home an A+ and he'd say, 'Well, that's exactly what I expected. What else you got
for me?' It was never ending and that's what makes me tick. I know I'm worthy,
regardless, but deep down I'll always be that girl looking for daddy's approval."

Ms. Richards first graced us with her magnificence in 1991 with Naked (To the
World) - a dynamic debut of aural alchemy that blindsided the musically astute,
leaving them stroking their chins, mind-blown and pondering, "Where’d this
bad ass babe come from…with all these bangin' beats?" Legendary Atlantic
Records co-founding President Ahmet Ertegun personally inked Nicki to the
company tersely declaring, "I signed Aretha Franklin. I signed Led Zeppelin.
Now I'm signing you!" By all accounts Nicki delivered a highly impressive
debut. From unforgettable covers of Seals & Crofts’ "Summer Breeze," the
Isley Brothers' "Voyage to Atlantis” and the wistful reflection "Paris" (penned
by the sublime Tina Harris), to her soul ballad “What Happened to Us”
(featuring Marcus Miller on bass), the euphoria-filled “Sunshine,” the pointed
message “New Days of Rage” and THE sexiest slice of femme fatale funk of the
`90s, "Naked," Nicki's Naked (To the World) is now a collector’s item - especially
its “Superfly”-inspired die cut promo-edition. But behind the scenes drama at then-
transitioning Atlantic compromised the promotion of Naked. Disheartened, Nicki
opted out of her contract and concentrated on the lucrative super side-woman
scene.

17 years later in 2008, Nicki Richards triumphantly returned with a 17-song CD of
uncompromised creativity, versatility and excellence titled Nicki (launched via her
own company, Hydrus Music). Promoted with a maxi-single filled with remixes
of the uplifting unity anthem “Bring the Love” and an ironically steamy video for
the heartbreak jam “Why You Wanna Hurt Me So Bad,” Nicki was the answer to
Richards’ long devoted fans’ prayers. Other highlights were the churchy “Lawdy”
(inspired by personal and regional devastation post-Hurricane Katrina) and a funk-
fortified missive about getting your moral values straight titled “Check Yourself”
(featuring the mighty Tower of Power Horns and Herculean drummer supreme
Dennis Chambers). However, the depth-charge pulse of Nicki was detonated
in its second half suite of exquisitely expressed love-longing songs – richly
imaginative titles such as “Alpha Centauri,” “Parallel Universe,” “Happening
to Me Again,” “Say the Words” and “I Have Loved You Always.” Those songs
sowed the seeds for the bumper crop of night flights that fill Tell Me… – all from
an Earth Angel who, in spite of all, never gives up on her dream of eternal love.

“If you let it, music can remake you…make you resilient despite all things,” Nicki
promises. “I wanted to celebrate life in honor of all the loved ones I lost, to share
that there is always hope even when times are not so great, and to manifest my
fantasies as they pertain to love. My first thought was that as a child at bedtime, I
would have story time, get on my knees to say my prayers, then climb into bed and
dream…and I would dream big! I’m still doing that to this day.”

Slip between the sheets and open Nicki Richards’ Tell Me… to the pages of your
deepest desires... Wind your imagination down spiral stair journeys to galaxies
and kingdoms – game of thrones unfolding, nights of fancy calling, knights of
fantasy conquering – wrapped in romantic splendor and aural ecstasy. Where the
wishes of love’s true believers dot rings `round mountains…run rings `round the
insurmountable… rendering all fantasies real…whenever dreams are illuminated
from within.

So blow out the night light, draw down your wide screen eyelids, rest your head
upon Nicki’s surrealistic pillow…and let the bedtime story begin.

The Queen will receive you now.

- A. Scott Galloway


Reviews


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Iliana

Amazing!
Nicki Richards once again proves her powerful yet velvet vocals, but she does not stop there! Her work the producer on this album is equally amazing! The lyrics are so intimate and personal that take you on a journey. Great album for the summer nights!