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BWW CD Review: Nicolas King Reigns With ACT ONE

You won't want to take an intermission from the best CD of 2021, and it isn't even here yet.

BWW CD Review: Nicolas King Reigns With ACT ONE

It is easy to be cross with Nicolas King.

Playing Mr. King's new album ACT ONE will require one to listen to years-old recordings from the gentleman's twenty-five-year career. Except that Nicolas King is twenty-nine years old... that means some of the recordings on Act One are recordings of a child singing, something this writer has never been very interested in. It doesn't matter because the earliest recordings of Nicolas King singing aren't recordings of a child. Oh, he was a youngster alright, a boy whose voice had yet to change and whose style was still developing, but these are not the performances of a child, and listening to them, one might feel an urge to say, right out loud, "HOW does a KID learn to DO that?!" Well, that's the mystery, isn't it?

That isn't the only time during the fifty-five-minute album that you will ask yourself how Nicolas King does it, though. As the music takes the listener on the chronological journey through the prodigy's teenage years and into his adulthood accomplishments, there are numerous jaw-dropping, eye-popping, gasp-worthy moments of musical brilliance that leave open the possibility of absolute wonder at this one person's ability. It's no secret that King can sing - anyone who has heard one of his previous recordings, watched his online concerts, or seen him live has been made aware of his titanic talent, but when presented with an audible documentation of where he started, how he found his voice, and who he became as an artist, it is as rewarding and mind-blowing an experience as can be found, just listening to a CD.

Note how the early recordings are influenced by the stylings of famous singers who came before the young 'un, especially his Godmother and mentor Liza Minnelli, but how, as the young 'un becomes a young man, his personal instincts develop until the only artistic voice to permeate the storytelling is that of an artist who has grown, like a tree, from seeds planted in the soul. It cannot be denied that the gift of song is one inherent in the boy, for no ordinary person of twelve could tackle "God Bless The Child" the way young Nicolas did and succeed, but when the timeline lands at 2017, the depth and the detail of emotion, the delicacy and intricacy of phrasing, the power and the prowess of placement on "You Must Believe In Spring" are as precise and perspicacious as that of an artist working with absolute confidence and total trust in what they are doing, and what they are saying. The experience afforded one through the observance of King's growing artistry is akin to looking at the early sketches of a famous painting before seeing the finished canvas, framed and hanging in the right light - the only question is: in what light does Nicolas King belong?

Act One presents King performing the quietest of ballads in containment worthy of Shirley Horn, swinging like he's on a stage with Benny Goodman, scatting as though he was Chet Baker. Is Nicolas King a jazz singer, a Broadway belter, a swing musician, a crooner, or an adult contemporary artist? Because that's what he sings on this CD - it's what he's been singing for the last twenty-five years, and it's what he should be singing because he does all of it as easily as the rest of us cough, breathe in and out, or take one step after another. He doesn't do it alone, either, because he invited jazz icon Jane Monheit to join him on a swoon-inducing "But Beautiful" and he called Broadway royal Norm Lewis to help him melt your heart with "What a Wonderful World" - that's a wide chasm of vocal types but King melds with the two voices and meets them in the middle, making two tracks that, alone, make the CD worth owning. They aren't the cuts that did it for this writer, though (sorry Jane, sorry Norm): there are back-to-back recordings on the CD that are Nicolas King as his varied best. One of them is a reinvention of the Carpenters song "Sing" (I know, I know, don't hate) that soars and swings and makes the day better, and the other is a wistful, delicate, heartbreaking and life-affirming "What Matters Most" that will drive you to the phone to call every person you love but haven't spoken to in a while, just to let them know that they are important to you.

Mr. King has been blessed in his professional and personal friendships over the years, and many of them flow from the album, packaging and all, but the relationships most germane to the recording itself are those with his arrangers/conductors, all of whom are credited in the more than generous CD booklet, but especially Mike Renzi, who has become to King as Peter Matz was to Barbra Streisand - it is an artistic marriage that can never be faulted and must never be broken. Their work on the album is beyond reproach.

And speaking of Streisand... Let us return to being cross with Nicolas King. You see, he has something in common with Ms. Streisand, something other than having a great musical director and arranger: Never had one lesson.

Are you cross now?

This man, once a boy, has released a sixteen track album that charts his twenty-five-year career in show business, and with every vocal performance on the disc, you will hear a voice so incredible, a talent so remarkable, that you will feel your favorite boy singer slip from his number-one spot on your list in order to make room for King at the top. Then, when you consider that Nicolas has had no formal training, you may feel the urge to say, "Well, DAMN." So say it. And then you have a choice to make: either you choose to be cross with Nicolas King for being given what he has, that which we all want and didn't get, or you can choose to let him take his place at the top of your list of favorites. The truth is it doesn't matter whether you choose to be cross or choose to be besotted. All that matters is that you choose to keep listening to Nicolas King sing because if this is his Act One... just wait till you see what he gives you for Act Two.

It's going to be good, and you know it.

Nicolas King ACT ONE is a 2021 release on the Club44 Records label and will release digitally and in hard copy on January 22nd. To preorder, find Nicolas King on Facebook and Instagram @itsnicolasking

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