On October 2, Nicole Willis returns with her third album accompanied by the Finland-based Soul Investigators since 2005: Happiness In Every Style. As the name suggests, the new release – her fifth solo outing since 2000 – offers plenty of variety and lands on a sunnier side of the street, following her darker, acclaimed 2013 release, Tortured Soul. Nicole and the Soul Investigators offer upbeat modern soul and embrace sophisticated melodies alongside their highly evolved raw funk sound, whose wares share vinyl shelf space with fans of Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. To get a taste of the new album’s strength and appeal, one has only to put on the first single, “Paint Me In A Corner,” “Let’s Communicate” or the ebullient “One In a Million” to hear the vocalist’s energy and skill, honed by decades in the music game. From minor key ballads such as “Thief In The Night” to the unapologetically poppy “Angel,” the new album is a perfect showcase not only for her sweet, evocative, powerful voice, but also excellent songwriting by Willis and the group.
Nicole Willis’ soulful voice is one of a kind, and her lyrics are full of insight. Born in Brooklyn, NY, she first became known as a vocalist in the mid-80s working in London with the group Washington Week In Review (including future members of the Brand New Heavies) as well as New York groups Hello Strangers and Blue Period. She was a guest vocalist on tour with the UK pop group The The during the late ‘80s, and even spent time in an early version of the group Deee-Lite. In the ‘90s she helped form the NYC-based acid jazz and soul group Repercussions, releasing two albums with them: Earth & Heaven (1995, Warner Bros.) and Charmed Life (1997). During that same era, she dueted – via the Repercussions – with Curtis Mayfield on the song “Let’s Do It Again” (from the 1994 Warner Brothers album, A Tribute To Curtis Mayfield), and collaborated with the UK dance group Leftfield, on the single “Swords” Nicole has resided in Helsinki, Finland since the mid-2000s with her partner – producer and musician Jimi Tenor. In addition to his collaborative assistance with her solo work, they have released two house / electronic albums since 2013 under the group name Cola & Jimmu. (As an aside, Tenor performs flute, vibes, background vocals and – of course – tenor sax on Nicole’s latest album). In addition to her wide-ranging and renowned musical work, she is also an accomplished painter. The Helsinki-based Soul Investigators have performed together since 1998, and have released numerous singles, including soul and funk instrumentals as well as collaborations with a range of vocalists. Group members Jukka Sarapaa (drums) and Sami Kantelinen (bass) also run the renowned, vinyl-centric Timmion Records label.
Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators’ first album together, Keep Reachin’ Up was released on Timmion Records in 2005, and it was a critical success among soul enthusiasts around the globe. The hit single “Feeling Free” was chosen as “Track of the Year” by renowned DJ Gilles Peterson in his World Wide Awards in 2006. Keep Reachin’ Up was also selected as the “Urban Album of the Year” by MOJO magazine. After the album was released, Nicole and the band performed consistently in Europe throughout the late ‘00s. In the following years the record has also been released in France, UK, Japan and North America. In early 2012, President Barack Obama chose the song “Keep Reachin’ Up” for his re-election campaign’s official Spotify playlist. Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators released their sophomore effort, Tortured Soul, in early 2013. The band’s signature soul sound was still clearly in the mix, but the new album also introduced a harder rock & blues edge. Songs such as “Break Free” and “Time To Get Business Straight” were stand-outs with fans and DJs. And now, in 2015, one of the world’s great modern soul singers and her favorite collaborators return with something new: the fresh, wide-ranging Happiness In Every Style. Another amazing release in a truly unique and impressive career.