We can’t recall why exactly we never got around to telling you about Danielle Nicole‘s 2015 debut solo album Wolf Den, but it’s certainly one worth checking out if you haven’t done so. Whether you like what you heard there and are returning for more or choose to use it as more of a starting point for working your way back to Wolf Den, the recent follow-up release from this bass-playing, blues-belting siren is even stronger: if Wolf Den is an album you should own, then Cry No More (Concord Records) is one you must own, sounding a lot like the kind of breakout album Just Won’t Burn was for Susan Tedeschi or Nick of Time was for Bonnie Raitt.
If Danielle sounds a bit familiar, it may be that you recognize her from her former stint alongside her brothers Kris (drums) and Nick (guitar) Schnebelen in the much-acclaimed, International Blues Challenge-winning family trio Trampled Under Foot, which the siblings decided to disband in 2014.
But it’s clear that Danielle hasn’t just pushed those days to the past, calling upon former Trampled Under Foot producer Tony Braunagel (Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Burdon) to co-write a handful of songs (including the swaying, soulful title track), play drums on, and produce Cry No More, as well as guitarist brother Nick Schnebelen for the opening number “Crawl”, a powerful, rocking song on which Danielle — who, in 2014, became the first female winner of the Blues Music Award for Best Instrumentalist-Bass — immediately
takes charge both lyrically (“crawl when you want love, crawl on your knees, crawl if you wanna’ get next to me/ If you want my love back at all, then get down and crawl”) and with her commanding delivery.
That’s followed by the dark, determined rocker “I’m Going Home” that features Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, with other guest guitar appearances including Walter Trout on the funky, power R&B of “Burnin’ for You”, Kenny Wayne Shepherd on the lightly rocking “Save Me”, Monster Mike Welch on the jazzy, deep soul of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (Prince) and slow, tender “My Heart Remains”, Danielle Nicole tour band member Brandon Miller on the slinking “Baby Eyes”, and Luther Dickinson on the gritty closing “Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Crying” (Blind Willie Johnson).
While those guests certainly help add some nice diversity to the 14 tracks here, lead guitarist Johnny Lee Schell (Bonnie Raitt) also does a pretty darn fine job throughout the project, including joining several of the guest guitarists, and also contributing cig fiddle on a couple of numbers. Schell is, in fact, one of two fellow Phantom Blues Band members Braunagel brought on for the album, also enlisting organist Mike Finnigan for a handful of tracks.
Finnigan’s son Kelly Finnigan also accompanies on organ for a few songs, including a passionate “Poison the Well” and the steady, shuffling rocker “Someday You Might Change Your Mind” on which he also shares lead vocals. We don’t know that we’d heard Kelly before but will be sure to check him out after hearing the expressive, gravelly vocals that nicely pair and complement those from Danielle, whose voice throughout the album range from tender and passionate to tough, husky growls, even incorporating a little scatting on songs like “Baby Eyes” and the sultry R&B number “Hot Spell,” a previously unrecorded track written by Bill Withers in the 1970s that the retired music legend offered to Danielle upon hearing her on a visit to the studio at which she was recording the album.
We had the good fortune of seeing Trampled Under Foot perform several times before they disbanded, and remember being impressed then by what we heard from Danielle, with her stunning vocal abilities continuing to evolve even more in the years since, sounding at various times here like Tedeschi, Raitt, Ana Popovic, Eva Cassidy, Barbara Blue, and others. There’s no question that Cry No More is the best we’ve heard from Danielle yet.