Nikka Costa – Pebble to a Pearl

4 out of 5

Label: Stax / Go Funk Yourself

Produced by: Justin Stanley, Nikka Costa

No longer on Virgin Records, and having to appeal to the girl pop market toward which she was initially pushed, Nikka Costa’s Pebble to a Pearl runs with the artist’s funkiest inclinations to offer up her best sounding and most confident release to date.  Again working with husband and producer Justin Stanley, Pebble’s twelve tracks are just stacked with amazing, grooving players, all in sync with the agenda of the laying down the most soulful and organic tracks we’ve yet heard from Costa, topped by her inimitable wail.  There are some ballads here, as ever, but they are of a different breed than the polished types found on Everybody Got Their Something and cant’neverdidnothin, driven by melody moreso than just ticking off a box of styles; every song on Pebble is memorable.

But the changeup also removes some immediacy.  Costa’s lyrical focus hasn’t changed much – although her independence is now a bit more inward looking than looking to kick unfit lovers to the curb – but her writing here lacks some of the powerful imagery and punch that worked so well with her impressive shrieks and coos.  She absolutely brings it, performance wise, which works perfectly with the more Earthy sound of the production, she just doesn’t seem to be stretching, lyrically; you can very often guess a rhyme several lines out.  The tradeoff, though, is in how confident the album ends up sounding, as though Costa is happy to fall back on familiarity because she’s surrounded by such solid compositions, and because away from the Virgin limelight, there’s no need to prove anything: she’s here, and happy to play some badass tunes for us.  And we’re here, very happy to listen.