Nakia: A TV Star Returns to his Roots

Nakia - Drown In The Crimson Tide
Television is still insanely powerful. I’ve actually met Nakia once, and I had no idea who he was. I was at the ACL dual taping of Gillian Welch and The Decemberists, when the random guy standing next to me asked me to take a picture of him and the man I later learned to be Nakia. Nakia was gracious, and I didn’t think much of it as I kept hearing his name more and more. Curiosity finally got the best of me and I looked up his appearances on The Voice, where, as a member of Team Cee Lo, he ultimately finished 7th (which I believe remains the highest finish of any Austin artist on the show).

From the moment I actually saw Nakia in action on a nationally televised program, I understood what all the hype was about. Here was a husky dude with a voice to match, and more charisma than he knew what to do with. Last week, I was supposed to have the opportunity to actually sing with Nakia (until his team put him on vocal rest), and I was surprised at how excited I was to have the opportunity to share the stage with a real life TV star. And none of that can be totally forgotten when listening to Nakia’s first release post-The Voice, Drown in the Crimson Tide.

For many of us, this is our first exposure to the soul singer, but he has been performing in Austin for over a decade now. The experience shows, as Nakia is obviously quite comfortable behind the microphone. The song kicks off with “Tight,” a light funk number that recalls a 21st century Joe Cocker, or Ray LaMontagne fronting the Commitments. It’s an effortless dance-y number that is also purportedly autobiographical and showcases Nakia’s Southern roots in both lyrics and style. When the chorus hits, you know that there’s nowhere else on earth this man belongs.

The rest of the EP’s successes come when they are variations on this Southern soul sound. “Pieces and Castles” is based in the same soul, but with a much more Southern rock twist, like if Lynyrd Skynyrd covered some of the great Stax classics of the Sixties. “Walking on a Slant” is a revue-style ode to getting completely hammered. Maybe it’s my bias toward brass instruments, but I think these songs work tremendously well. And “Make Up With a Gun” might be the most original track here – a grinding Spaghetti Western-style tale about Nakia’s badassery.

I’ve never been a huge fan of ballads, and “When I Found You” is one in a very traditional mode. If you like old-school soul ballads, this one will connect with you, but I just think Nakia’s energy fits better with the uptempo numbers. While I think liking “When I Found You” is a matter of taste, “Dream Big” is the only track on the album that I actually think is bad. Partly it’s the plodding nature of the music, and partly I just can’t stand platitudes like “dream big” in a song. I recognize that Nakia is pouring his heart out on this song, but “Dream big – it doesn’t cost a dime?” Please. I am too much a product of Generation Irony to buy into that at all.

Overall, this is a great introduction to Nakia’s post-TV fame career. It should appeal to many of the new fans he amassed from his appearance on The Voice, while reminding us Austinites why we should have been proud to have him representing us to a nationwide audience.

– Carter Delloro