(4 / 5)
Nyah Grace has got something. Only 18, an American now relocated to London.
Writing with and produced by some decent names with sterling pedigrees. Even collaborating with the wonderful Corrine Bailey Rae.
Yes this young soul and r&b singer songwriter really does have something.
Debut album “Honey Coloured” is this young lady’s calling card for her grand entrance into the business of music, out in June.
Inspired by the likes of Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and Estelle, Nyah blends neo-soul, old skool soul and r&b with jazz flavours. An impressive vocal instrument and she knows how to use it. Good control and no showboating vocal fireworks required.
Her singles “Black Coffee” (she was 14 when she wrote this!) and “Sunday” got tongues wagging, and her name mentioned in the same breath as Billie Holiday and the aforementioned Corinne Bailey Raye, who has co-written a song on this album where she also duets. Double A-sided single “Sooner Or Later” and “I Just Wish You’d Call Me”, both pop up on the album.
Nyah was spotted by a manager who flew her and her Mother over to the UK, to work with the Grammy-nominated Steve Chrisanthou (Corinne Bailey Rae, Lianne La Havas) and Michael Kwesi Graves. Nyah spent a year here working on the record, and then moved over here permanently at the age of 17.
Nyah Grace grew up on her grandparents’ farm in rural Oregon, with lots of animals and wide-open spaces. As a child, she wanted to be Selena Gomez or Taylor Swift, but discovering Billie Holiday and Alicia Keys in her early teens changed that.
Shutting herself away in the farm’s basement, she taught herself piano and began to write songs, and then learned a computer recording programme to transform those ideas into demos. She asked for singing lessons when she was six, but she was too young to get a tutor, so a little later she began lessons until she was a teenager. Nyah knew what she would do with her life…
At 13 she found jazz, Billie Holiday in fact, and fell in love with the genre, but also soaked up her mum’s eighties music, and her dad’s love of early rap, plus plenty of r&b. She began to enter talent shows and sang Alicia Keys songs.
Fast forward circa three or so years, and after she was discovered by a veteran music manager who believed she had what it takes to make it, Nyah spent more than a year commuting back and forth between Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire and Brixton in South London.
Writing and recording the 13-track album with two different producers in their studios: Steve up north, and Michael down south. Jetting back to the US to graduate early, before permanently relocating to the UK. She wrote seven with Chrisanthou, four with Graves, one with Chrisanthou and Bailey Rae and one on her own (“The Trumpet Song”).
The title track opens the album – a quality slice of nu-soul, with a sassy vocal and some jazz tinged guitar brush strokes. Old skoool backup vocals, and a pretty decent piece of song writing and production.
She has my full attention. Like the fact there are no “look at what I can do” vocal acrobatics and pointless runs. She’s laid back and chilled, the soul side of things sounds innate and like she’s in her own zone. The falsetto is lovely.
“I Don’t Really”, sits on Latin jazz vibes. An almost Stevie Wonder arrangement, and again, spot on approach to the vocal and the production. She’s still got my attention and this stuff sounding more slick big budget L.A. than Brixton or Hebden Bridge!
Former single, the commercial and hooky “Sunday” – see the video at the bottom of this page – stays on the slower side of things. Maybe Erykah Badu and Jill Scott territory. The voice and the song here just as classy as those two superstars. (Could see the wonderful Omar wanting to collaborate with Nyah, after hearing tracks like this one). Hold my calls. Next track please?
After three slowish cuts on the trot, I am in need of some uptempo groove. But not getting any with, “I Just Wish You’d Call Me”. Lianne La Havas vibes with a late night smoocher.
Slower still. Old school soul ballad “And I Love Him”. She’s got a superb voice, but at just 18-years-old, I feel there’s too much emphasis on the slower, old time romantic late night soul – and there should be some more age-appropriate material that makes you feel more wide awake and ready to party, rather than turn down the lights for some Netflix chill time!
But I am hanging on in there because I have hope she’s gonna liven things up a tad in a track or two. “Sooner Or Later” picks up the pace a wee bit, with a mid-tempo soulful, jazzy track, with a nice hook and a commercial sound. Retro r&b, and it’s very nice. Next track, “Think”, has electric piano and ethereal vocal to kick off this neo-soul slowie….But it loses me… Badly need something with some oomph now.
But not gonna get it with the Mahalia / Sade-ish “So Fine”. Good song and neat vocal. But I so crave a move away from the slow, sultry late night soul stuff, and some good-time, up tempo songs. But still five tracks to go, so……
Tinkling electric piano signals yet another slow one. “Magnolia”. A lot of these tracks would never get radio airplay, as they are too slow and ballad-centric. Not sure of the thinking behind this being her first album and it being being a ballad fest’. This one is a pleasant track, but I feel like I have heard this type of song several times over on this album thus far.
“Numb” is mid-tempo and it’s OK. But, hang on, wait a minute. Ahhh, this is more like it. “My Sista Told Me”, co-written with Brit’ star Corinne Bailey Rae, who sings with Nyah on the track.
Obviously aiming for radio plays at only two minutes and 30 seconds – most commercial cut of the set and a breath of fresh air amid all those ballads. Got a real infectious side to it. The two voices have chemistry. Strong song writing. Love the chorus and it is very much more age appropriate for an 18-year-old young woman, who would be big on sisterhood and supporting her mates. More like this please.
“Summer Luvin’”, goes back to her safe, comfort zone and slower territory. Not one for me. Penned by Nyah on her own, “The Trumpet Song” closes proceedings. And guess what? It’s not an up-tempo song!
Old skool, slow and sultry soul with a vintage jazz tinge. Her voice sounds great, but for me, wrong move to sling yet another slow soul song at us. The debut album should be going out with a bang, some groove and a real hook. (Her trumpet solo impression did make me smile though and is a nice touch.
When this album first arrived and I heard the first two tracks, I felt like we were on the verge of hailing this young singer songwriter a future r&b superstar, and we may well have come across the next big thing.
Then I sat through the 13 tracks and got severe ballad fatigue. But………………I still believe in Nyah. Here is a star in the making. But this album will not do that job. And if she makes another one like this packed full of these slow soul ballads, the big success may pass her by.
There is a big difference between someone with a good or even great voice, and an artist. Often that rests on choice and strength of material, and the direction they take.
At this time, I think we have the makings of a seriously good artist, and I am on no doubt Nyah is a very good singer. But to launch an 18-year-old with a barrel load of ballads – and most way too old for her age – is for me, a mistake. I am very happy to be proven wrong though.
Now, it may be that Nyah has dictated the choice of songs and style of her debut album, and her team have merely accommodated her wishes. Because this is what she loves to sing and this is her comfort zone. She is back in her basement, safe and feels confident.
But it is not a commercial proposition to my ears, and sadly, lost me part way through with all those slow soul songs that would fit a veteran artist of triple her age, and someone who has clocked up 40+ years’ service and a dozen or more albums to their credit. But not a very talented 18-year-old wanting to make a big first impression with her debut album. Sorry.
To clarify: Nyah is a real find. Fact. She has a great voice. Fact. But she needs the right balance of material and age-appropriate material at that, to give herself a chance of big success, long term success and to give her super vocal instrument the vehicle it deserves, so she can really shine.
With her vocal talent and her looks/image, the young kids who have their radio locked to BBC Radio 1 would love Nyah, and the magazine front covers will be hers and the kids TV programmes will book her to appear. But those youngsters will not be into this slow vintage soul ballad stuff at all. That said, if she and her team are not bothered about mainstream commercial success, then that is their call, of course.
With the right balance of material and right direction, the potential for big international success is there. But I will still give this album four stars here, based on her voice and the potential. I am excited to see what she does next.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’