IN REVIEW: Nikki & Rich and their "Hit" Brigade

This one was a long time coming. Last Tuesday, Nikki & Rich finally released their debut album, snarkily titled Greatest Hits..., after some truly terrific singles, some pleasantly surprising free releases and what literally felt like a lifetime of just waiting.

While Greatest Hits... does have some sunny parts, I find some fault in the name, mostly because it leaves off the two songs that got me so excited in the Nikki & Rich project in the first place: original singles "Cat & Mouse" and "Next Best Thing".

In the material that does official surface on a real release, Nikki & Rich really do attempt to be more multi-genre than their original marketing intent, which showed them off with a vintage-soaked toe-tapper. Most of this was thanks to vocalist Nikki Leonti's incredible, smokey voice. Her voice is still there, but Greatest Hits... feels a little more now over what their previous work started to suggest. While I applaud them for expanding their sound a bit, I still wish they truly would have kept two of their best "Hits" on their actual album release. (Not too fear -- both songs are still available for purchase on their own aside from this release if they are not already a part of your musical library.)

That complaint aside, Greatest Hits... is one of those light album releases that doesn't feel so light. Just ten tracks strong, but every single cut is exciting and relevant for its own reason. It opens with arguably my favorite of the "newer" cuts, "Rainbow", a sunny, anthematic little ditty that belongs in a smiley montage of some romantic comedy set in New York City during the summer. "Same Kind of Man" helps fuel their soul -soaked sound without sounding cheap or forced. It's also their current promotional tool, featured in a few different television ad campaigns (including that of the soon-to-be canceled "The Playboy Club" on NBC -- not the best omen).

Three of my overall favorites from the release aren't new at all. "Murder U" (a replacement for "Cat & Mouse"...sort of), "Danger" and the hip-hop infused "City Lights" (which features rapper Fabolous) were the meatier bits from their Finally Free EP from earlier this year that was, you guessed it, free.

I was lucky enough to see Nikki & Rich live in concert at a closed showcase here in New York last year, and while I quite enjoyed all of their material (including then single "Next Best Thing"), I became a fan thanks to the gorgeousness that is "Yellow Brick Road". Although I mourn for the loss of "Next Best Thing" and "Cat & Mouse", "Yellow Brick Road" almost makes up for their glaring absence on Greatest Hits... It's every bit as beautiful and haunting as I remember it being live and then some -- complete with choral backing vocals, and a very stripped down backdrop. Leonti is vocally at her very best here. If you don't get goosebumps, check your pulse. You might be dead.

In the end, Greatest Hits... may be a touch anticlimactic after such a long wait, but the quality remains once the dust has settled. Here's to hoping the ironic title won't be so ironic after all.

Nikki & Rich's Greatest Hits... is available for purchase for $7.99 at Amazon.com. Worthy prior singles "Next Best Thing" and "Cat & Mouse" are also available for less than a buck each. Worth the money indeed.

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