Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Chris Nole, an acclaimed pianist who is preparing to release his newest studio endeavor, ‘It Be What It Be.’ At twelve tracks, the excursion is one through Nole’s remarkably colored palette of sonic influence and style that's unforgettable intriguing. Last year, I discussed Nole’s career with the legendary John Denver on the Jukebox Podcast. This, however, is his own original music. Let’s explore it and see if it’s worth keeping tabs on.
‘It Be What It Be’ incorporates heavy jazz, blues, and rock influence throughout its run. He cites inspirations like Professor Longhair, Randy Newman, and Ray Charles. They’re all definitely present, but Nole puts his own twist on his sound. I’ve never heard a record of Nole’s where he sings, first and foremost. As the titular track exemplifies, he actually has quite a bit of swagger to his style. The man can sing.
Nole’s foot-stomping vibes on the piano are accented further by an immensely good studio band. The saxophonist on ‘It Be What It Be,’ the song, is outstanding. The New Orleans-esque style of ‘Overdue For You’ is refreshing, too, and the love story that Nole muses through on the track is lovely. ‘Good For My Soul’ harnesses the Randy Newman influence, deriving some creative direction from approaching the song as a ‘singer songwriter.’ The track also helps concrete Nole’s presence as a vocalist - he commands the atmosphere very well.
Now, I’d argue that ‘It Be What It Be’ is not an extensively deep record - nor does it try to be, and nor should it be. It’s a feel-good album, and Nole is here to create blues and old time rock and roll that can get people moving, grooving, and singing along. Tracks like ‘Somethin’ In The Water’ do that exactly - it’s a track designed to make the listener feel genuinely good. That’s an admirable effort, one I simply adore. Nole’s music brings light into the room.
‘Lay Across My Piano’ is one of the highlights of the album as Nole navigates a masterful serenade. It’s quite well written, harkening back to Sinatra-like performances of an era gone by. ‘Gumbolaya’ follows it nicely, offering one Nole’s best instrumental performances on the album. As a lover of New Orleans music, it’s one of the most satisfying songs on the album for me. Anyone with appreciation of the area’s musical stylings will find something to love with ‘Gumbolaya.’
There’s a very vintage feel to ‘If You’re Ready To Rock,’ as if it was taken straight from an Eddie Cochran record where the flip side of the vinyl was ‘Twenty Flight Rock.’ It’s a style that works for Nole and his studio outfit wonderfully. ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ however, the traditional tune, follows with a very different approach to the iconic track. It’s bluesy - jazzy, even, and with no vocals. It’s a surprisingly fresh take on a song we’ve all heard endlessly over the years.
I loved that Nole didn’t use vocals for ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ but I was concerned he’d do the same for ‘Roll Over Beethoven.’ Fortunately, though, he sings the legendary Chuck Berry track and injects it with an incredible amount of personality and gusto. It’s such an infectious performance. It’s simply one of the album’s very best.
Following the traditional arrangement and the cover, Nole shifts back to originals for the remainder of the album. ‘My Last Clean Shirt’ is the first of the three, and it takes Nole and his band into some soft, meandering territory with some excellent instrumental performances. I love Nole’s percussionist and guitarist. They banter back and forth around his piano and vocals effortlessly.
‘I’m Ready Beddy’ is old-style honky tonk boogie, proving Nole’s ability to continue to jump about genres throughout the entirety of his album. The song, which is a tune about a house piano player, creates a landscape for the fast paced blues to occupy beautifully. It’s very much worth noting that all of these songs are snappy - Nole doesn’t ostentatiously devolve into soloing. Every note resonates with purpose and is executed with laser-sharp precision.
The recordings sound spectacular, too. From the title track to the contemplative finale, ‘Blues For Miles,’ Nole and company sound absolutely fantastic. Each mix is perfectly organized and each master is a pleasant experience on any set of speakers. Nole sets the gold standard for independent artists. The nod toward Miles Davis in the final moments is nicely presented, and winds down the album after an experience chock-full of intensity.
This is exactly the album it needs to be - it’s fun, it’s danceable, it’s very well written and performed, and Nole has elegantly harnessed his influences in a way I rarely see any artist in the industry do. The album drops Aug. 2, and it’s very worth your time.