An intelligent, creative artist with the jazz/folk vibe of Joni Mitchell and the country roots soul of Lucinda Williams, Nikki is a fine guitar player with a lovely, clear voice. But it is her incredible gift as a songwriter that will keep whispering "Nikki Rouse" in the wind until it's a household name.
Her debut CD, with the eye catching title of "Chocolate and Morphine", features 11 all original songs that cover a wide range of emotions and styles, that somehow fit together as naturally as the variety in a box of chocolates. The music is a real pleasure to listen to and has that "grows on you" quality, the kind of CD that seems to stay in the CD player, with songs that you can listen to over and over again.
With piano and accordion by Jon Carroll (Mary Chapin Carpenter Band), "She Can't Be Serious" is probably one of the catchiest songs on the album. It is a narrative that tells of the heartbreak of a husband whose wife has moved on, and the way Nikki tells the tale, we almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
Another hit in the making is the simple, sweet "Beautiful Me", destined to be one of the most romantic love songs of the century for the baby boomer crowd. "Christmas Alone", an emotionally mixed eulogy to friends who have died of AIDS and the mothers who loved them, adds world beat percussion to the mix with Jaqui McMillan and Norm Thorne.
The jazzier "Mary and Joe" on Track 6 features drums by Byron McWilliams and saxophone by Washington's own Davey Yarborough, a melodic blend that keeps hold of you and demands your attention to the plight of the cities homeless.
The 8th Track is the title track, "Chocolate and Morphine", a beautifully haunting melody about a troubled but dependent love affair. Played sparingly with just guitar and cello, it is the perfect title for a collection of songs that cover the pleasures and pains of life, love and longing.
Nikki wraps up her debut with the hauntingly beautiful "Confession" on Track 11. Featuring piano by Jon Carroll, and the magical harmonies of Lori Kelley and Cletus Kennelly, this heartbreaking song of forbidden love showcases the significant range and power of Nikki's obviously well-trained voice.
This is a high quality album that sounds great. Nikki writes melodies and lyrics with a rare mix of poetic simplicity and musicality. There's a strong independent sense of coming to terms with the realities of life, love and hardship in this album.
Joined by a host of the DC areas greatest and best known musicians, Nikki and producer Marco Delmar obviously took some liberties and experimented with a variety of styles and influences. Eclectic? Yes. But the whole package is as delectable as a box of chocolates.