Review: Tami Neilson, “CHICKABOOM!”

Tami Neilson - Chickaboom!

I really don’t like to be repetitive, and have lost count of how many articles have started out this way, but I heard this ‘great new track’ on the radio during my commute recently, and, well, you know where this is headed.  Thanks to the handful of great stations that cover Canadian music on SiriusXM radio, I instinctively cranked the volume a little louder than I should confess to when first hearing “You Were Mine,” the latest single from Tami Neilson.  What a song!  With her powerhouse vocals, Tami never fails to impress, but wow, did she raise the bar with this one.  I’m guessing that the decibels fleeing from my speakers must have caught somebody’s attention, because just shortly afterwards, a notification promoting Tami’s single and upcoming new album magically appeared in my email inbox.  How could I ignore this one?  That’s right, I could not!  You simply cannot ignore the goosebumps that appear when learning that Tami Neilson is back in the spotlight.

Born in Canada, and currently residing in New Zealand, Tami Neilson is a singer-songwriter whose persona and voice are both impossible to forget.  An established tour-de-force within the honky-tonk and alt-country music scenes, Neilson also brings some sassy soul and rambunctious rockabilly to her repertoire that will quickly earn your full attention, irrespective of your musical tastes. Hey, don’t just take my word for it. Tami Neilson has been described as “a fire-breathing belter on her own terms” (Rolling Stone), with “a great big canyon of a voice” (Downbeat), and upon hearing her brand new “CHICKABOOM!” album, you’ll understand how she earned such accolades.  Gifted with an unbelievable vocal range, Tami can take on big ballads, golden-age country, and heartfelt gospel one minute, then R&B, Western swing, and old-school rock ‘n’ roll the next.  Tami encompasses them all, and is a personality-powered cyclonic force of nature, wrapped in stylishly retro attire, long lashes, and a stacked-high beehive. I have your attention now, right?

With “You Were Mine,” I would be quick to add soul-infused jazz to Tami’s resume too, as she comfortably and competently elevates herself into Amy Winehouse and Alessia Cara territory here. With some stunning opening guitar and bass riffs, Tami naturally dominates with her bluesy, hazy vocals, complemented by the perfectly timed drum rolls and sporadic jazz guitar cues.  Co-written with her brother, Jay Neilson, this composition pays homage to the father that they lost recently. “We were discussing how, when you lose someone, it is such a line in the sand, a marker in time,” Tami shares. “We talk about everything in terms of ‘before’ and ‘after’ – each family event, each movie that comes out, each album that is recorded…’was Dad there for that?’  This is for anyone who measures time against a deep loss of love that was an integral part of the fabric that makes up your life.”

Of her new album’s title, “CHICKABOOM!,” Tami explains, “I wanted to write an album of punchy little songs, popping firecrackers that, when stripped back to nothing but a guitar, percussion and two voices, would still go boom!”  These tunes are indeed short and sweet in length; compact time capsules that are rich in all of the aforementioned genres in which Tami and brother Jay excel.  Take, for example, “Any Fool with a Heart,” in which the siblings perform a vintage country duet that is best surmised as Kitty Wells and Marty Robbins join forces at an Everly Brothers tribute night.  You really have to hear this one to believe how accurate I believe my statement to be.  For those craving Tami’s rockabilly or gospel sounds, “Sister Mavis” is a great up-tempo, twang-heavy affair that mates both genres perfectly. The twang is joined by handclaps during the vintage, alt-country track, “Hey Bus Driver!,” another throwback track in which Tami delivers the period-perfect lines: “Got no honey in the morning / Got no sugar in the bowl / I’m just bringing home the bacon / Raking in, making that dough.

Are you searching for some great new tunes to listen to, but nothing whets your appetite?  Are you left hearing the cries of Russell Crowe’s Maximus character from Gladiator, asking “Are you not entertained?  Are YOU not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”  Well go ahead and dig into a few more tracks from “CHICKABOOM!” and savor more of Tami’s latest offering.  Tracks such as “Call Your Mama,” complete with retro vibes and sharp vocals that ooze the sassiness of Elle King, gift-wrapped in plenty of fun, low-end twang that is almost too dirty to touch.  Or “Ten Tonne Truck,” a modern-day country affair boasting some great tongue-in-cheek lyrics: “When the pie gets better / Everybody wants a slice / What I’ve been cooking since back in ’89.” Quite at home here in 2020, successive listens leaves me believing this would be equally at home in 1990 or 1960 too; being completely timeless with a great marching beat that prompts many repeat listens.

Tami attributes the importance and significance of family life as being inspirational for this new album. “In the past year, I started to notice … the artists I would spend time with backstage at festivals, the ones I gravitated to the most … like Shovels & Rope and Brandi Carlile … they all had family performing with them,” she shares.  “When you tour away from loved ones, it makes a world of difference to have part of your village with you on the road.  Not to mention, nothing can come close to that special blend of blood harmonies and silent communication that only comes from being onstage with a person for over 30 years. Family has always been a huge part of my music-writing, recording and creating with me, but I wanted family on this project and on the road with me again.”

“CHICKABOOM!” shall be unleashed on Valentines Day, via Outside Music, and is highly recommended listening from this incredibly versatile artist. Be prepared to be entertained. BE prepared to be entertained.  This is, after all, why you are here.

Visit Tami Neilson’s website.

Martin Noakes

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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