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  • Writer's pictureCHRIS FARLIE

ALBUM REVIEW: DANNI NICHOLLS - UNDER THE NEEM PLUM TREE


DANNI NICHOLLS - UNDER THE NEEM PLUM TREE

Timed perfectly to coincide with her current UK tour is the new album from Danni Nicholls. Since leaving our shores to pursue the American dream she's been steeped in the sound of country and the result is her most overtly country sounding record to date. In truth it is a bit of a stopgap album rather than a new magnus opus however what you get is a new song, some classic country covers and some of Danni's previously released tunes revisited and countrified - however it is a stopgap album with a purpose.


The prominent sound throughout other than Danni's sumptuous voice is the sound of the pedal steel which immediately establishes that country sound. The formula that worked so well on the last album carries through on to this one, that feeling off space. not needing to fill gaps in sound with unnecessary bleeps.


Do we know what a Neem Plum tree is? No - even our good friend google is not really helping on that! and we cannot hazzard a guess as to the peculiar font used for the title on the cover- What we can do is guide you through eight tracks of dazzling Danni.


The opening track is the title track, it immediately establishes a sound that will become familiar as we work our way through the record, Danni's acoustic guitar and the pedal steel of Brett Resnick. As Danni's vocals appear, it initially appears to be a superior story song.


"She was the talk of the town - the belle of the ball - the smartest girl around

He come up from the South, kinda short and skinny, just starting out

Two unlikely friends is where this story begins"


The chorus is beautifully descriptive, Danni precisely plucking out the words that give the tale that touch of veracity and dare we say added class.


"Oh the moon was high in the indigo sky -

Jasmine perfume on the breeze

He planted a kiss on her painted lips

Under the Neem Plum Tree"


The second verse takes us on the journey that this couple then embark on


"They got married in the Church hall -

On the day after Christmas

Had a baby in the fall"


It is only with the next verse that the song starts to reveal it's hidden secret - most couples seeking a new life in songs travel to America - this pair seem to be going the other way.


"Soon they crossed the ocean wide, left their families behind, to start a brand new life

Three turned into six, how they loved to reminisce"


The second visit to the chorus sees the mandolin start to become more prominent.


For those not yet joining the dots the third verse reveals all - this is not just any family's story real or invented - this is Danni's own history being played out.


"She tells me the stories when we're together

Says it feels like yesterday and it feels like forever

And the old country songs make her smile

As they remind her of him, and the days gone by

If it weren't for that Neem Plum Tree

I wonder if I'd ever come to be"


As Danni put's it - "This was meant to be and the rest is history"


The album is a tribute to and for Danni's Grandmother, affording her the opportunity to provide her take on some real country classics that would probably be considered to be too "Standard" to go on a normal album


The first of the all time Nashville classics is "My Happiness", covered by everyone from Jim Reeves, Elvis, Connie Francis and Ella Fitzgerald through to Daniel O'Donell!. Rather than try to stand toe to toe with any of these Danni takes the song back to it's bare bones, and let's it stand on it's on two feet. The simple sparse backing of pedal steel and acoustic let's Danni concentrate on the vocals which are delivered in a classic unfussy manner.


The Patsy Cline magic of "Crazy" is dispatched in similar style, the one addition being the beautiful backing singers which are of the time. Personally I do miss the piano, but there's no denying that this is beautifully sung.


One of the Nicholls originals that Danni has chosen to include is the live favourite "Between The River And The Railway" which first surfaced on a Pledger's special acoustic album at the time of the "Mockingbird Lane" album.

This is one of the few songs that is actually built up rather than stripped back, the addition of a true country fiddle being inspirational along with the ever present pedal steel perfectly playing it's part on the "wolves howling" line.


It's back to the classics for the "Blue Bayou" with Danni closer to the the Roy Orbison version than the Linda Ronstadt, once again supported by some excellent backing vocals.


"Can't Help Falling Love With You" is a version of pure sweet simplicity while "Tennessee Waltz" has a fiddle evoking the words of the song as Danni relays the situation in which she introduces her sweetheart to a friend who then waltzes away with them. The beauty of the vocals a perfect counterpoint for the intrinsic sadness of the tale.


The final song on the album revisits "Ancient Embers" from the excellent album "The Melted Morning", one of the first songs of that record that Danni introduced into her live set. This is another song where the original is the stripped back version, the new one now relishing in the addition of pedal steel and violin provides the perfect backing for Danni's heartfelt "ooh" ing.


On paper it may send like a mish mash of old and new, covers and originals however the story contained within the opening song and then the constant thread provided by the pedal steel and Danni's divine vocals perfectly tie things together into a most coherent country project.

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