Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: The Nikhil Korula Band - The Solo Sessions EP

Every young artist has that dream of one day playing alongside their musical heroes. They grow up listening to those albums, soaking in those influences, practicing those riffs, and hoping to one day just meet those influential voices and thank them. Unfortunately, it’s the rare person who truly has that opportunity to meet their creative muses let alone to play with them. But, Nikhil Korula is something of an uncommon person and he takes full advantage of his experiences and, on his latest recording, The Solo Sessions EP, sees his dream come true.

Korula’s musical journey began early as five-year-old child prodigy, his classically trained vocals leading him to share the stage with a plethora of talented artists from multiple genres. Yet, it wasn’t until the artist hit college and deeply encountered the freedom found in jazz, R&B, funk, and pop. Drawn to that “creative liberation,” Korula began crafting songs that spoke to his heart and drew from several different disciplines and soon joined forces with some of L.A.’s strongest session players, musicians who’d performed with the likes of Herbie Hancock and more, to form the tightly knit Nikhil Korula Band.
And, for the past ten years, Korula and company have taken their music, informed by a variety of influences including Dave Matthews Band, Van Morrison, Sting, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and more, and stirred it up into their own signature gumbo of sound, leading them to perform alongside some of the biggest acts in music. In addition to garnering strong airplay on college radio and showcasing their skills at festivals like Bonnaroo and Summerfest, the six-piece group has also shared the stage with the likes of Jason Mraz, Ben Harper, Tim Reynolds, The Roots, and, most specially, Dave Matthews Band, among others.

That connection to the Dave Matthews Band is a special one as the Korula was fortunate enough to have Jeff Coffin (sax) and Butch Taylor (keyboards) play on the record. Speaking to that, the artist shares, “It’s come full circle for me. I used to see DMB play stadiums, then the NK Band played shows with them, and now I’ve had the opportunity to record with them. It blows my mind this happened.”
And as Korula’s mind stands blown from his musical dreams coming true, listeners are equally blown away by the musicianship of The Solo Sessions EP.

“Spark” kicks things off with a distinctly DMB feel, playful acoustic guitar plucked out by Korula and supported by smooth backing vocals informed by a solid R&B groove while Taylor’s killer keyboards provide subtle notes that carry the track ahead just right. Korula’s lyric is hopeful and he delivers it with gusto, his rich baritone weaving and flowing its way through the sonic jam before “He Said, She Said,” steps to the fore. The longest track on the album at nearly eight minutes, it takes full advantage of Coffin’s presence on sax, letting him riff through a number of soulful grooves that set the tone while Korula’s vocals huskily tramp through a gentle soundscape.
Rich organ tones open up “Broken Roads,” soon joined by plucky acoustic guitar and Korula questioning, “Where is the fork in this road?” before the percussion drops and some backing vocals join in, electric guitar wailing out some southern-flavored soul as “Silent Tears” brings in some powerful strings to convey an extra dose of emotion. It’s one of the strongest tracks here as Korula’s voice comes across as very vulnerable and open, the arrangement actually better for its simplicity. Album closer “Fade Away” steps up to bat and kicks the pace back up, peppy percussion, great piano fills, and plenty of rich electric guitar supporting Korula’s further hope-filled lyrics and rising vocals, ending on a strong note.

Nikhil Korula is an artist who’s done what many artists only dream of, getting to not only meet his musical idols but to play with them and be accepted as a peer. And with The Solo Sessions, it’s easy to see why. The Nikhil Korula is a tight-knit collection of players, each strong in their own respect, and their knowledge and respect for the music oozes through each note they play, invoking thoughts of their inspirations but coloring them with their own flair. For fans of something more eclectic and inspired, The Nikhil Korula Band’s The Solo Sessions EP has just what you’re looking for.

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