Over the last fifteen years, music has been transformed beyond recognition. Everything from the way we consume music to how it’s delivered has changed. Nowadays, many people to music on the move. It’s reduced to mere background music, an incidental soundtrack to the drudgery of daily life. This soundtrack is delivered via iPods, phones and tablets. Oh how times have changed. Gone sadly, is the ritualistic side to music.

It used to be that listening to music involved sitting down in front of a hi-fi system, and immersing yourself in the music. Having spent time looking for your weekly fix of music, you returned home. That’s when the rituals began. 

Having removed the vinyl from the sleeve, you placed the pristine vinyl on the turntable. Then carefully, you lowered the tonearm and placed the stylus on the vinyl. Only then did the music come out of the carefully placed speakers. As you sat down and let the music wash over you, you examined the artwork, and began to study the sleeve-notes, poring over the credits and lyrics. Then as side one drew to a close, it was a case of turning the vinyl over. This was another ritual the record buyer enjoyed. However, then came the compact disc.

The advent of the compact disc promised greater sound quality. They were sold as indestructible. You could literally disabuse them and allegedly they would work perfectly. Another advantage of the compact disc, was the first compact discs lasted seventy-four minutes. That meant longer albums. Now albums can last as much as eighty minutes. However, that’s not always a good thing. 

Back in the days of vinyl, an artist was restricted by the length of the album. So, mostly, they included their best work. With the introduction of the compact disc, artists are tempted to release longer albums. Often they’re sprawling, unfocused affairs. Then there’s the album cover and sleeve-notes. What were a thing of beauty, were reproduced in miniature. For many music lovers, this was a step too far. Then came the MP3.

For many music lovers who had lived through the age of vinyl, eight-track, cassette, compact disc and mini disc, the thought of buying music as a computer file was mind boggling. After all, it wasn’t tangible. You couldn’t sit down, study the sleeve-notes and artwork they argued. Then there was the sound quality. It was lossy and didn’t compare favourably to vinyl and the compact disc. MP3s the purists argued would never replace vinyl and compact disc. How wrong they were.

Nowadays, many albums are released on MP3 only. This fits in with the new 21st Century record company model. Record companies, nowadays, are risk averse. They’re unwilling to commit to a compact disc or vinyl release, as this ties up much needed scarce resources. So, instead, many albums are released as a digital download. This allows the record company to test the waters. If the album sells well, their next album can be released on compact disc. This also works in the artist’s favour.

The cost of releasing an album is expensive. It can cost around £15,00 or $22,500 to release an album. However, the cost of a digital release is considerably less. So, this means record companies are able to release more albums digitally, than on compact disc. In effect, the digital release allows record companies to spread their risk on a larger portfolio of artists. For the music lover, it should allow them to hear a wider selection of artists, including Stephanie Nicole.

For many people, the first time they heard of Virginia born, Stephanie Nicole, was on the BBE Music compilation BamaLoveSoul Presents On Deck 2. It featured Diligence, which is the opening track on Stephanie Nicole’s debut album Souloutionary One, which will be released on BBE Music, on 26th January 2015. Souloutionary One is the long awaited new album from Stephanie Nicole.

Although Stephanie Nicole featured on BamaLoveSoul Presents On Deck 2 in 2014, she hasn’t released any new music since the spring of 2013. That’s when Stephanie release her Voices E.P. It was well received amongst the Nu-Soul community. They forecasted a bright future for the California-based singer-songwriter, whose career began in the theatre.

Just like many soul singers before her, Stephanie Nicole was a star of stage. This included a part in The Wiz. However, Stephanie has also a background in classical music. 

Back home in Virginia, Stephanie worked with many celebrated composers and conductors. This resulted in Stephanie winning a number of awards, including the Festival Choir competition, which she won three years in a row 1999-2001 as a member of the Select Women’s Ensemble. This shows a very different side to the Stephanie Nicole that features on Souloutionary One

For Souloutionary One, Stephanie Nicole reunited with her cowriter and co-producer, Craig Perkins, who is better known as Classroom Craig. They collaborated on the eleven tracks that became Souloutionary One. 

Souloutionary One is best described as Nu Soul with a social conscience. Many of the tracks on Souloutionary One are full of social comment. It seems that Stephanie is determined to follow in the footsteps of India Arie and Erykah Badu. In doing so, she produces music that’s variously uplifting, spiritual and stylistically, eclectic. That’s apparent throughout Souloutionary One.

Diligence opens Stephanie Nicole’s forthcoming, new album Souloutionary One. The arrangement reverberates moodily, as keyboards set the scene for Stephanie’s vocal. Straight away, her vocal is tinged with anger and frustration at the “corruption and devastation” around her. What is needed she sings is “education and emancipation.” Meanwhile, a broody bass probes it way through the arrangement and keyboards that add an element of drama. Drums provide the heartbeat, for this slice of Nu Soul with a social conscience. 

There’s an almost ethereal, spiritual, sound as Replenish unfolds. Soon, the drama builds and the rhythm section and harmonies accompany Nicole. Percussion and guitars join the mix as Nicole delivers a questioning, probing, vocal. As the arrangement grows, it becomes busy. Layer upon layer of music assail you. A horn, a male vocal, percussion and ethereal harmonies all play their part, Meanwhile, Nicole asks “when will my dreams come true?” 

As Cartographic College unfolds, the rhythm section, organ, keyboards and Nicole’s vocal join forces. She claps her hands as if encouraging the band along. They respond, producing an uplifting track. It’s quite unlike the previous tracks. Indeed, sometimes, the track takes on a indie sound, as Nicole becomes a musical chameleon.  

From the get-go, Soulutionary One has a dubby sound. The arrangement reverberates into the distance, giving it a trippy sound. With the rhythm section and keyboard playing leading roles, Stephanie’s scatted vocal flits in and out. It washes over you. Similarly, sound effects and percussion make brief appearances, during this captivating, laid-back, soulful track.

Maha Meditation sees Stephanie change tack again. The track has Eastern influence. That’s apparent from the opening bars. Again, the arrangement has a dubby, trippy sound. That’s down to the effects deployed. As for the instruments used, they range from traditional to Eastern. This mixture of two cultures melts into one, providing a slow, atmospheric backdrop to  Stephanie’s ethereal, soulful vocal.

Stephanie’s classical background shines through on Just Love Her. Ethereal harmonies sweep in, providing a contrast to Stephanie’s melancholy vocal. Wistfully, she sings “I always want, what I can’t have.” Accompanying her is an arrangement that’s understated. Just drums, piano and a guitar accompany Stephanie as elements of classical, folk, Nu-Soul and world music combine seamlessly to create one of Souloutionary One’s highlights.

Stabs and washes of keyboards join crunchy drums on Now You’re Here. They provide the backdrop for Stephanie’s vocal. It veers between tender to sassy. Meanwhile, a buzzy bass and harmonies accompany her on this heartfelt paean.

Thoughtfully, Stephanie delivers an impassioned vocal on Vow of Nevers. Accompanied by the rhythm section, keyboards and harmonies, she reflects: “what I’ve become, are the wolves that raised me.” Soon, she’s singing about “the Vow Of Nevers,” they took, and how she’s changed. “Your love has changed me forever and ever…your love gives me security.” Then the arrangement unfolds and grows. It veers between dramatic and understated, as Stephanie delivers a soul-baring, Nu-Soul vocal.

Be Strong stops you in your tracks. Straight away, it’s obvious that this is one of Stephanie Nicole’s finest tracks. This is the case from the ethereal harmonies that float above the arrangement. They give way to Stephanie’s heartfelt vocal. She’s accompanied by the rhythm section, woodblocks and Fender Rhodes. Then as the bass drives the arrangement along, it becomes jaunty. A crystalline guitar, gospel-tinged harmonies and harmonies accompany Nicole as she pleads and encourages those who are suffering to “Be Strong.” 

Unaccompanied harmonies open Welcoming Change. They set the scene for Stephanie’s vocal. It’s influenced more by classic soul, than Nu-Soul. She’s accompanied by the rhythm section, organ and harmonies which are the perfect accompaniment to  Stephanie. Especially, when the arrangement is stripped bare and the harmonies take on an ethereal quality.

Soulutionary Dub closes Soulutionary One. It takes the dubby sound of Soulutionary One even further. The arrangement is drenched in a wash of reverb, while instruments and Stephanies vocal flit in and out. This results in a track that’s dubby, laid-back and soulful.

Soulutionary One marks the return of Stephanie Nicole. It’s nearly two years since she released her Voices E.P. in the spring of 2013. Back then, Vouces was well received amongst the Nu-Soul community. They forecast a bright future for the California-based singer-songwriter. However, since then, Stephanie hasn’t released any further music. That will change on 26th January 2015.

That’s when Stephanie Nicole releases Soulutionary One, on BBE Music. Soulutionary One, which will be available as a digital download, will be the introduction to the California based singer-songwriter Stephanie Nicole.

Some critics believe, that Stephanie Nicole is one of Nu-Soul’s rising stars. They see Stephanie Nicole as the rightful heir to India Arie and Erykah Badu. If that’s the case, then Souloutionary One could be the first step in the journey that sees Stephanie Nicole crowned Queen of Nu-Soul. That could be the case. Stephanie Nicole isn’t lacking in talent.

On Souloutionary One, Stephanie Nicole is reunited with her cowriter and co-producer, Craig Perkins, who is better known as Classroom Craig. They collaborated on the eleven tracks that became Souloutionary One. It’s best described as Nu Soul with a social conscience. 

Many of the tracks on Souloutionary One are full of social comment. Others appear to be personal, and based on Stephanie’s life and experiences. That’s why Stephanie is able to breath life, meaning and emotion into these songs. In doing so, Stephanie takes Nu-Sould as a starting point, and constantly, changes direction.

During Souloutionary One, Stephanie Nicole veers between classic soul, gospel, jazz, Nu-Soul, R&B and even rock. This results in an eclectic, but often soulful album. It seems that Stephanie is determined to follow in the footsteps of India Arie and Erykah Badu. In doing so, Stephanie Nicole produces music on Souloutionary One, that’s variously uplifting, spiritual and stylistically, eclectic. 


Soulutionary Album Cover

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