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“I’m definitely taking more chances now,” Danielle Nicole says of Cry No More, her second solo album and the follow-up to her widely acclaimed 2015 solo debut Wolf Den. “I grew up playing the blues, and the blues is still a big part of what I do. But now I’m reaching out more and trying different things. It still sounds like me, but I’m stretching out a lot more than I have previously.”
Indeed, while Wolf Den served as a powerful intro to the young singer-bassist-songwriter’s funky, blues-steeped songcraft, Cry No More, released on February 23rd, 2018 via Concord Records, takes the artist into fresh new creative territory, delivering 14 emotion-charged new songs whose rootsy musical edge is matched by their air of hard-won personal experience. Guitar World has the track premiere for “Save Me” here.
Danielle Nicole’s expansive approach yields deeply compelling musical results throughout Cry No More. With seasoned veteran Tony Braunagel (Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Burdon) producing, such heartfelt, groove-intensive new tunes as “Crawl,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” the Bill Withers-penned “Hot Spell” and the heart-tugging title track find Danielle cutting loose and focusing on the storytelling and character-development aspects of her songwriting.
“I wanted to open up more about myself, and I think it shows in the songs,” Danielle asserts. “I thought really hard about the stories I wanted to tell in these songs. I really dug into my personal experience, and worked to be more open and expose more of myself than I have in the past.
“There’s a song there about my father, ‘Bobby,’ who passed away a long time ago,” she continues. “That was a big one for me, because I’d never gone there before. And I’ve had lots of changes going on in my life, so the title track, ‘Cry No More,’ is about moving on and letting go, and about getting over things and moving past them. There are a lot of songs on this album about moving on, although that wasn’t a conscious direction. Every song is a different story, and every song has a purpose and a perspective.”
While Danielle wrote or co-wrote nine of Cry No More’s 14 songs, the seductive “Hot Spell” was given to Danielle by its author, long-retired R&B; legend Bill Withers. Withers was a surprise visitor to the album’s recording sessions at L.A.’s Ultratone Studios, and was so impressed with Danielle’s singing that he dug into his archives and offered her the song, which he wrote back in the ’70s, but which had gone unrecorded since then.
“Bill is one of my all-time musical heroes,” Danielle notes. “We played him a couple of the songs we’d been working on, and he said ‘Come on, let’s go out to my car for a minute.’ So we were hanging out in his SUV, and he’s shuffling through his glovebox and he pulls out this disc and says ‘I’ve got this song; it’s a bit risqué, but if you don’t mind, I’ll play it for you.’ It was this demo that he’d done, with his daughter doing the vocals. It was real moody and had a great groove, and it was Bill all the way. He told me that if I liked it, I was welcome to record it.”
She didn’t have to be told twice. “There was a section on the demo where Bill’s scatting where the guitar solo would be. We asked him to do that on my version, but he’s retired, so he respectfully declined to sing on it. So I sang the scat line and harmonized to it, in his honor. He dug it!”
Danielle enlisted an old friend, Braunagel, who also produced the last two albums by her old family band, Trampled Under Foot, to record the album. The pair’s longstanding creative rapport is apparent throughout Cry No More, on which Braunagel co-wrote five songs with Danielle.
“I really wanted to work with Tony on this record, because I knew that he would get the best out of me,” Danielle explains. “We’ve really developed a great working relationship and we write together really well, and I knew that Tony could help me develop these stories into songs.
“This whole record was like a dream come true,” she adds. “I got to do the songs I wanted to do, work with the producer I wanted to work with, and record in the studio I wanted to record in. It was really cool how everything fell into place. All of the songs were what I wanted them to be, and all of the players were perfect for the songs. Every aspect of this album, from the birth of the songs to the mastering, was really free and organic.”
In addition to Danielle on bass, producer Braunagel on drums and longtime Bonnie Raitt guitarist Johnnie Lee Schell (who also engineered the sessions), Cry No More features appearances by such notable guitarists as Kenny Wayne Shepherd (on “Save Me”), Luther Dickinson (on “Just Can’t Keep From Crying”), Walter Trout (on “Burnin’ for You”), Sonny Landreth (on “I’m Going Home”), Danielle’s touring guitarist Brandon Miller (on “Baby Eyes”), and her brother and former bandmate Nick Schnebelen (on “Crawl”).
The musical expertise and emotional depth of Cry No More reflect of a lifetime’s worth of music-making. Born Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, Danielle comes from a long line of singers and musicians, and showed an affinity for singing almost from birth. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, she performed in public for the first time at the age of 12, singing Koko Taylor’s “Never Trust a Man” as part of a Blues for Schools program at her elementary school. In her early teens, she began singing in local coffeehouses and at open mic events, often jamming with her parents at clubs that would allow minors. At 16, she became lead singer in her father’s band, Little Eva and the Works. In 1999, she started her own band, Fresh Brew, with some older local musicians. Fresh Brew performed for four years and represented Kansas City in the prestigious International Blues Challenge.