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Nichole Wagner - 'And The Sky Caught Fire' Album Review


1. Winner Take All

2. Dynamite

3. Yellow Butterfly

4. Rules Of Baseball

5. The Last Time

6. This Kind Of Love

7. Let Me Know

8. Fires Of Pompeii

9. Reconsider Me

10. Sparks And Gasoline

Thank you Facebook for tipping me off to a winner again. First, it was the brilliant Blues Rock debut EP by Natalie Christine, and now it is the full length debut by Nichole Wagner who has crafted a fantastic collection of Americana. I had listened to a few previews on iTunes and knew that I had to try to spread the word on this album. Wagner is based in Austin, TX and infuses her take on Americana with elements of Folk, Rock, Country, and the Blues. This is a tremendous debut album that has a great flow to it. I anticipate Wagner will find her name spreading far and wide in the years to come as this album is one that you don’t just enjoy; it is one that you make sure your friends hear as well.

‘Winner Take All’ gets us started in excellent fashion with the slow beat introducing us to Wagner’s heartfelt vocals sending the song to another level with her slight drawl and soft touch. The catchy chorus is made to stay in the head but is not overpowering. The subtlety is beautiful, and the lyrics give us the sky caught fire lyric in the title of the album. ‘Dynamite’ turns up the intensity with the Blues Rock mining Americana gold as Wagner puts forth an anthem that has stuck to my bones since the first time I heard it. I truly believe she has dynamite in her blood, which contrasts with the vulnerability of the first song, but it also highlights just how damn good Wagner is at owning these songs. ‘Yellow Butterfly’ brings the Folk influence up to the forefront with soft acoustic guitar and delicate piano providing the framework of the song. I love how the piano (Jan Flemming) is used as the open mix let’s it really shine in the spots it appears. There is also a wave of sound in the back that reminds me of ocean waves rolling into the beaches at night as the moon cascades light over the water. This album isn’t just telling us the stories but painting the scenes thanks to the chemistry of everyone involved.

‘Rules Of Baseball’ starts the middle section of the album with a vocal that I simply love. The great lyrics here are tied to a relationship that is ending. If someone could time travel, I would give them this song and have them add It to the old movie Bull Durham. This song could have been sung by Susan Sarandon in the movie as some of the lyrics sound like her kind of philosophy and remember in the end there is no crying when you lose. ‘The Last Time’ serves as the end of side one epic at nearly five minutes. The vulnerable vocal at the start with the soft electric guitar creates a haunting feeling. The guitar work by Will Sexton throughout the song (and the album in combination with additional guitars by Justin Douglas) leaves me on the edge of my seat with each note providing a statement of intent. At the climax, the drums (Chris Hausler) thunder to life amid a huge wave of cacophony before the silence returns to close the first half of the album.

‘This Kind Of Love’ starts the flip side of the album with an uptempo beat. The lyrics here are again brilliant with a first verse that constantly puts a smile on my face. This song that needs to be blaring on the car stereo for all to hear. Grant Himmler’s bass work combines with Hausler to create an ideal rhythm section here that sets the table for each of these songs. ‘Let Me Know’ adds some country touches and settles into a midtempo beat. This is the one song that has not connected with me as much as the others yet, but I still enjoy it. ‘Fires of Pompeii’ serves as a slow burner with more lyrical excellence on display. This duet with Rod Picott provides even more texture to the album with the folk influence, and Wagner’s vocals especially pulling the listener closer to the speaker as the tension grows.

Warren Zevon’s ‘Reconsider Me’ showcases another lesson in how to deliver an Americana classic and shows Wagner’s ability to make a cover song all her own. I love how it quickly picks up after the first verse. The strong hook provides a huge earworm. The guitar solo by Sexton pops here as well. ‘Sparks And Gasoline’ provides a strong closer with more great lyrics. Another baseball reference here for those of us here in the States, and I agree with her that the Designated Hitter is wrong. Several times throughout the album I find myself making notes at how well this whole album was mixed and put together by producer Justin Douglas.

I find myself compelled to now go purchase her debut EP based on how special this album is. Wagner wastes no time across these 10 songs with every note serving a purpose. If some of these songs could get some airplay, she could find herself dealing with a critically acclaimed hit album alongside the likes of Jason Isbell. Wagner connected with me from the first notes, and this album has exceeded my expectations. In a year of great music, this diamond in the rough is one that is going to spend a lot of time in my rotation, and I am sure you will see this one again at the end of the year when I look at my favorite albums of 2018.

‘And The Sky Caught Fire’ is available now.

Review - Gerald Stanbury

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