Nikki Hill is hard to resist. With her guttural growl, spirited dancing and contagious zeal while performing rock ‘n’ soul, she commands your attention. Add the hot-hot-hot chemistry between her and her guitar-playing husband, and Hill had a triumphant Twin Cities debut Saturday night at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.
If Tina Turner and Little Richard had a daughter and raised her with the help of uncles James Brown and Chuck Berry, she’d be like Nikki Hill.
The hyper-chatty North Carolina singer-songwriter mentioned her love of Little Richard during both of Saturday’s sets, each of which featured his songs. Husband Matt Hill’s love of Berry’s guitar licks was apparent on several numbers, especially Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock and Roller.”
Nikki Hill tended to favor mostly up-tempo, vintage-sounding tunes,which gave her show the vibe of a bar-band gig. That was underscored by Matt’s guitar instincts, which were more classic barroom than refreshingly creative.
She was a knockout on rockers including “Right on the Brink,” and she killed it on the Joplin-evoking ballad “And Give Me Your Love.” But overall the texture and dynamics of her tunes were too similar. Backed by a drummer, bassist and guitarist, Hill could have used another musician on saxophone, harmonica or keyboards. The Tex-Mex-meets-reggae treatment of the Texas Tornadoes’ “Who Were You Thinking Of” was a much-needed and nice change of pace.
Originality isn’t Hill’s calling card. The evening’s opener, “Sweet Little Rock and Roller,” and closer, Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away,” featured arrangements drawn from old Rod Stewart records. Hill’s self-penned pieces were hit (the seething stomp “Good Woman”) and miss (the one-dimensional “Hot Shot”). Playing selections from her 2013 debut “Here’s Nikki Hill” (which features some horns) and an unnamed album due later this year, she offered rockabilly raves, Stonesian struts, blues shuffles and southern soul ballads.
With her strong pipes and unquenchable spirit, Hill could become a contender. For now, she comes across as sort of a young, raw-voiced Sharon Jones without the showmanship and first-rate band.
But there is one thing that truly sets Nikki Hill apart – the sparks between her and her hubby. During part of every song at the Dakota, she sang facing him, and he reciprocated by playing his guitar solos directly to her. There was so much heat between them (they had celebrated their anniversary three days earlier, she announced) that you were almost tempted to shout: "Get a room!"