NICOLETTE LARSON-NICOLETTE/IN THE NICK OF TIME/RADIOLAND.

NICOLETTE LARSON-NICOLETTE/IN THE NICK OF TIME/RADIOLAND.

Although Nicolette Larson was born in Helena, Montana in 1952, growing up, she led something of a nomadic existence. This couldn’t be helped. Her father worked for the US Treasury, and was often transferred to other towns and cities. By the time Nicolette graduated high school, the Larson family were living in Kansas City, Missouri. Next stop for Nicolette was the University Of Missouri. 

Nicolette time at the University Of Missouri was short. She spent only three semesters at University before deciding academia wasn’t for her.  Instead, Nicolette and took a variety of dead end jobs. She waited tables and experienced the nine to five drudgery of working in an office. Eventually, Nicolette Larson decided to follow her dream, and pursue a career in music. 

This took time, determination and persistence and dogged determination. However, in 1978 Nicolette Larson released her debut album Nicolette on Warner Bros. Along with 1979s In The Nick Of Time and 1980s Radioland, these three albums have been reissued by BGO Records as a newly remastered double album. They’re a fitting reminder of a truly talented artist, Nicolette Larson.

Having decided to embark upon a career in music, Nicolette Larson moved from Missouri. Eventually, she settled in San Francisco, which had a thriving music scene. That had been the case since the birth of rock ’n’ roll. Nicolette’s first job in San Francisco, was in one of the city’s many record stores. In her spare time, Nicolette volunteered at the Golden Gate Country Bluegrass Festival. 

As she watched the artists perform at the Golden Gate Country Bluegrass Festival, Nicolette became even more determined to become a singer. So much so, that she was willing to travel to Canada to make her debut opening for vocalist Eric Anderson in Vancouver, British Columbia. Buoyed by having made her professional debut as a singer, Nicolette returned home, and began looking for work as a singer.

Fortunately, Hoyt Axton was looking for backing singers to join his band, Hoyt Axton and The Bananna Band. They were due to open for Joan Baez on her 1975 Diamonds and Rust tour. Nicolette passed the audition, and joined the tour. However, in 1975, Hoyt Axton was also producing country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s album Tales From The Ozone. He was looking for singers to add backing vocals.

Nicolette and Guthrie Thomas fitted the bill, and they both made her debut on Tales From The Ozone. It was released in 1975, and was just the first of a number of artists Nicolette Larson worked with. Often Nicolette worked with Guthrie Thomas, other times she worked alone.

Having worked with Hoyt Axton and Guy Clark in 1976, soon word was spreading about this new backing vocalist Nicolette Larson. She worked with Billy Joe Shaver, Gary Stewart, Jesse Colin Young, Jesse Winchester Mary Kay Place and Rodney Crowell. Nicolette recorded another album with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. However, in 1977 Nicolette got the opportunity to work with two of the biggest names in music.

The first was Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris. She was about to record her 1977 album Luxury Liner, and brought Nicolette onboard to sing backing vocals. Her finest moment on the album was Hello Stranger, where Nicolette features prominently and plays a starring role. During the recording sessions for Luxury Liner, Nicolette met Linda Ronstadt and the two women became firm friends. This resulted in Nicolette getting the opportunity of a lifetime.

One day, Neil Young phoned Linda Ronstadt to ask if she could recommend a female vocalist to sing on what became his American Stars ’N’ Bars album. Little did Linda Ronstadt know, that she was the third person Neil Young had asked that question. Just like the first two, Linda Ronstadt replied “Nicolette Larson.” That made Neil Young’s mind up, and Nicolette Larson got the call to head to his ranch and cut vocals for American Stars ’N’ Bars.

Joining Nicolette Larson for the American Stars ’N’ Bars’ sessions, was Linda Ronstadt. They harmonised, while Neil Young laid down the vocals and played guitar. However, when Stars ’N’ Bars was released, Nicolette and Linda Ronstadt were billed as The Bullets. Only one of The Bullets would feature on Neil Young’s next album.

In November 1977, Neil Young was recording Comes A Time in Nashville. Nicolette was asked to join what was an all-star cast. She contributed harmonies on eight of the ten tracks. Comes A Time was released in October 1978, and would play an important part in Nicolette’s future.

Before that, Nicolette continued to work as a backing vocalist. 1978 started well for Nicolette, when Emmylou Harris’ Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town album reached number three in the US Billboard 100, and was certified gold. Nicolette also added harmonies to albums by Marcia Ball, Norton Buffalo and Rodney Crowell. Neil Young’s Comes A Time was released in October 1978. However, the most successful album Nicolette worked on was The Doobie Brothers’ Minute By Minute.  She had added harmonies on two tracks. These tracks were part of a number one album that was certified triple platinum and won four Grammy Awards. However, by the time Minute By Minute was released on 1st December 1978, Nicolette Larson’s career had begun.

By then, Nicolette Larson had signed to the country division of Warner Bros. Nicolette only came to the attention of the executives at Warner Bros. after she had worked with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and Neil Young. However, once they realised that Nicolette Larson was a talented artist with huge potential, Warner Bros. wasted no time in signing her to their country division. They then paired Nicolette Larson with a top producer Ted Templeman.

Nicolette Larson had worked with Ted Templeman before, on The Doobie Brothers’ album Little By Little. He was already one of the most successful producers of the late-sixties and seventies. He had worked with Van Morrison, Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers, Captain Beefheart, Montrose, The Beau Brummels and Carly Simon. Ted Templeman next assignment was producing Nicolette Larson’s debut album Nicolette.

Nicolette.

Having signed to Warner Bros, work began on  Nicolette Larson’s debut album Nicolette. The ten tracks that were chosen for the album, were all cover versions.  Nicolette Larson wasn’t known as a songwriter. So it was a case of choosing songs that would suit  Nicolette’s voice.

This included Neil Young’s Lotta Love; Jesse Winchester’s Rhumba Girl; Sam Cooke’s You Send Me; Lauren Wood’s Can’t Get Away From You; Bill Payne’s Give a Little; Adam Mitchell’s French Waltz and Bob McDill’s Come Early Mornin’. Other tracks included Bob Hillard and Burt Bacharach; Holland, Dozier, Holland’s Baby Don’t You Do It and  Ira and Adam Louvin’s Angels Rejoiced. Closing Nicolette would be a cover of Last in Love penned by Gren Frey and J.D. Souther. These tracks were recorded with an all-star band.

When it came to recording Nicolette, a huge cast of musicians and backing vocalists were involved in the recording. This included musicians who Nicolette had previously worked with. Both Linda Rondstadt and Michael McDonald added backing vocals on Nicolette. Meanwhile, members of two the most successful bands of the seventies made guest appearances.

Little Feat had been one of the biggest names in Southern Rock during the seventies. Despite this, their guitarists Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett plus keyboardist Bill Payne found time to play on  Nicolette. So did The Doobie Brothers’ guitarist Patrick Simmons was joined by their live drummer Bobby LaKind. Eddie Van Halen even laid down a guitar solo on Can’t Get Away From You. Other musicians included bassist Klaus Voormann; guitarists Herb Pedersen and Memphis Horns’ saxophonist Andrew Love. He was part of the horn section, while Jimmie Haskell arranged the strings. Ted Templeman took charge of production, and Nicolette was completed in plenty of time to be released in the autumn of 1978.

The release of Nicolette was scheduled for September 29th 1978. Before that, critics had their say on Nicolette. The reviews of Nicolette were all positive, with Nicolette Larson’s blend of pop, rock, soul, country and folk proving popular amongst critics. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Nicolette.

It reached number fifteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the Canadian charts. This resulted in gold discs in America and Canada. That wasn’t the end of the commercial success.

Lotta Love reached number eight on the US Billboard 100 and number one on the US Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. Across the border in Canada, Lotta Love reached number four, and number one in the Adult Contemporary chart. The followup to Lotta Love, Rhumba Girl reached forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-eight on the US Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. In Canada, Rhumba Girl reached fifteen and number four in the  Adult Contemporary charts. The final single from Nicolette, Give A Little reached number nineteen in the US Billboard’s Adult Contemporary charts, For Nicolette Larson, a gold certified album and three hit singles proved the perfect start to her solo career. Looking back, that’s no surprise.

Nicolette featured a carefully considered selection of songs. This was the case from Nicolette’s folk rock take on Lotta Love, via her country-tinged cover of Rhumba Girl to the needy, soulful version of You Send Me. Can’t Get Away From You with its gospel tinged harmonies allows Nicolette to cut loose, and showcase her versatility. Mexican Divorce then becomes a wistful country ballad. Holland, Dozier, Holland’s Baby, Don’t You Do It is totally transformed, and takes on a much more grownup, sultry sound. After this, it’s all change.

One of the most beautiful songs is Give A Little, which us A.O.R. ballad. This reinforces Nicolette’s versatility. She seems equally comfortable singing A.O.R.  as she does country, folk, pop and rock. Not many artists were as versatile. Proof of this is Angels Rejoiced, with its authentic country sound, where Nicolette’s vocal takes centre-stage. French Waltz is another tender ballad, which just like Angels Rejoiced, has a slow, understated arrangement. Nicolette seamlessly switches between English and French as she delivers the lyrics. The final song on Nicolette was Last In Love, another heart-wrenching ballad. Nicolette’s vocal is akin to a confessional, as strings and a piano accompany her. It’s a beautiful and moving song, that whets the listener’s appetite for her sophomore album.

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In The Nick Of Time.

For In The Nick Of Time, Ted Templeman returned to produce the album. Ten tracks were chosen, including Just in the Nick of Time which Nicolette cowrote with Ted Templeman and Lauren Wood. She had contributed Can’t Get Away from You to Nicolette. This time around, two more of her compositions, Breaking Too Many Hearts and Fallen featured on In The Nick Of Time. Making a reappearance were Holland, Dozier, Holland, with Back in My Arms. The rest of the tracks were also from talented songwriters.

Lieber and Stoller cowrote Dancin’ Jones with John Sembello and Ralph Dino.. Michael McDonald and B.J. Cook Foster cowrote Let Me Go, Love; while Richard Torrance, John Haeny penned Rio de Janeiro Blue. Other tracks Bobby Troup’s Daddy; Karla Bonoff’s Isn’t It Always Love and Lowell George’s Trouble. Just like Nicolette, In The Nick Of Time featured a band featuring some top musicians.

At the core of Nicolette’s band for the recording of In The Nick Of Time, were Little Feat’s guitarist Paul Barrere and keyboardist Bill Payne. They were joined by The Doobie Brothers’ live drummer Bobby LaKind, who added percussion. Making guest appearances were The Memphis Horns; guitarist Ronnie Montrose; keyboardist Van Dyke Parks and Michael McDonald who duetted with Nicolette on Let Me Go, Love. This glittering array of musical talent joined Nicolette and producer Ted Templeman in recording In The Nick Of Time. However, could and would it match the commercial success and critical acclaim of Nicolette?

That was never going to be easy. Nicolette had received critically acclaimed reviews, and was certified gold. Throughout Nicolette, her enthusiasm is infectious. It was as if she was determined to grasp this opportunity with both hands. That was the case, as she brought each song to life, breathing meaning into the lyrics. However, the reviews of In The Nick Of Time weren’t as positive. 

Partly, this was because music was changing, and so were the critics. A new breed of cynical, gunslinger critics turned their guns on any type of music that was remotely establishment sounding. This included progressive rock, classic rock and even singer-songwriters like Nicolette Larson. Many albums didn’t stand a chance, and weren’t judged on their merits. Instead, the critic’s prejudice affected their judgement. However, the reviews didn’t bode well for the release of In The Nick Of Time.

On the release of In The Nick Of Time, the album stalled at forty-seven in the US Billboard 200, and seventy-one in Canada. There were no gold discs this time around. Neither the lead single Dancin’ Jones nor Back in My Arms charted. It was a disappointing time for Nicolette. However, was In The Nick Of Time was an album that deserved to fare much better?

Dancin’ Jones opens In The Nick Of Time, is an uptempo dance track, that comes complete with rasping horns. Despite being very different from the music on her debut album, Nicolette embraces this stylistic change and does so with aplomb. She does so on Just In The Nick Of Time, another dance track where Nicolette becomes a strutting diva. That however, isn’t the end of the dance tracks. Breaking Too Many Hearts and Back In My Arms are both soulful dance tracks. With gospel tinged harmonies for company, Nicolette continues to embrace this new dance-floor friendly sound. However, this new sound tells only part of the story of In The Nick Of Time.

Michael McDonald joins Nicolette on the ballad Let Me Go, Love.  The pair duet on what’s a smooth slice of soulful music. It’s followed by Rio De Janeiro Blue which has been covered by a number of artists. Here, Ted Templeman is responsible for the jazz-tinged arrangement; while Nicolette’s vocal is heartfelt and soulful. The same can be said of the hopeful ballads Fallen and Isn’t It Always Love? Daddy which was penned by Bobby Troup, takes on a jazzy, theatrical sound, and we hear another side of Nicolette Larsson. Closing In The Nick Of Time was Lowell George’s Trouble, which becomes a quite beautiful, reflective ballad. Nicolette had kept one of the best until last.

Looking back at In The Nick Of Time, one can’t help but wonder if someone at Warner Bros. decided that Nicolette should widen her musical horizons? It’s a very different album from Nicolette. Especially with the addition of four dance-floor friendly tracks. This isn’t surprising. Disco was still popular when the album was recorded. However, by July 1979, disco was a musical pariah. Stylistically, the other six tracks were much more like the music on Nicolette.

Some of the best tracks on In The Nick Of Time were the ballads, soulful songs and jazz-tinged tracks. Having said that, the more uptempo dance tracks are well produced and performed. They’ve the same quality as the other songs on In The Nick Of Time. The only problem was, this wasn’t what people who bought Nicolette expected. They wanted another album of A.O.R, country, folk, pop and rock. When record buyers  realised that In The Nick Of Time was a quite different album from Nicolette, it was a case of walk on by. After just two albums, Nicolette’s career was at a crossroads.

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Radioland.

Following the disappointing performance of In The Nick Of Time, work began on Radioland. Ted Templeman was retained to produce Radioland. It featured nine songs, including the Andrew Kastner penned How Can We Go On and Straight From The Heart. Andrew Kastner also wrote When You Come Around with Larry John McNally and Nicolette. Lauren Wood, who contributed to Nicolette’s two previous albums, wrote Been Gone Too Long. Other songwriters who had contributed songs to Nicolette’s two previous albums  included Adam Mitchell who wrote Fool For Love and the late Lowell George who penned  Long Distance Love. The other songs included Allen Toussaint’s Tears, Tears And More Tears; Sumner Merings’ Radioland and Annie McLoone’s Ooo-Eee. These songs became the album that could make or break Nicolette Larson’s career…Radioland.

When work began on Radioland, many of the same musicians that worked on Nicolette Larson’s first two albums were present. Little Feat’s guitarist Paul Barrere and Bill Payne who this time around, played synths. They were joined by The Doobie Brothers’ guitarist Patrick Simmons and their live drummer Bobby LaKind, who added percussion. Making a guest appearance was Linda Ronstad who added backing vocals. A rhythm section of drummer Rick Shlosser and bassist Tiran Porter, who were top session musicians, provided Radioland’s heartbeat. Just like Nicolette’s two previous albums, Ted Templeman took charge of production. Little did he know it would be for the last time.

Reviews of Radioland were mainly positive, with critics much more impressed by the change in sound. Stylistically, it was closer to Nicolette Larson’s debut album. Despite this, when  Radioland was released in 1980, the album stalled at sixty-two in the US Billboard 200, and failed to chart in Canada. It was a  familiar story with the singles Ooo-Eee, When You Come Around and Radioland. None of the singles troubled the charts. This was hugely disappointing for Nicolette and Ted Templeman. Indeed, for Ted Templeman it was the last time he worked with Nicolette Larson. His swan-song was Radioland. 

The title-track opens Radioland, and is an uptempo track that comes complete with eighties synths. There’s even a brief nod to Teena Marie. However, on Ooo-Eee it’s all change. A blistering guitar ushers in Nicolette’s vocal. Accompanied by harmonies, Nicolette delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of power, emotion and soulfulness. How Can We Go On? is a wistful mid-tempo ballad that’s much more like the music on Nicolette. The quality continues on When You Come Around, another tender, hopeful and dreamy ballad. After this, it’s all change.

Nicolette’s cover of Allen Toussaint Tears, Tears And More Tears is a fusion of jazz, funk and soul. It features a vocal powerhouse from Nicolette, who continues to showcase her versatility. This continues on Straight From The Heart, where Nicolette delivers a tender, but impassioned and rueful vocal. Equally rueful, but hopeful is Nicolette’s vocal on Been Gone Too Long. Just like on In The Nick Of Time, Nicolette finishes with a Lowell George song, Long Distance Love. She’s kept the best until last, as she breathes new life and aided and abetted by Billy Payne on keyboards, breathes meaning into the what’s a beautiful paean.

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Sadly, despite the quality of music on Radioland, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Music was continuing to change, and albums by singer-songwriters were no longer as popular. Even when they were as versatile and talented as  Nicolette Larson. She could seamlessly switch between musical genres, and did so on Radioland. That had been the case since her career began in 1978 with the release of Nicolette. 

Since then, she had showcased her versatility on In The Nick Of Time in 1979 and then 1980s Radioland. Whether it was A.O.R, country, folk, pop or rock, Nicolette Larson was equally comfortable. She wasn’t averse to delivering dance tracks. It seemed that Nicolette Larson was a truly versatile singer. Despite this, only her debut album Nicolette found a wider audience. 

Maybe Nicolette Larson would’ve enjoyed prolonged success if those who were advising her hadn’t encouraged her to change tack. It seems In The Nick Of Time, with its excursions into dance music alienated her audience. When this happens, it was difficult to win her former fans back. 

And so it proved. Although Nicolette Larson released another four albums, she never reached the heights of her debut album Nicolette. In wasn’t just the most successful album of Nicolette Larson’s career, but the best album of her seven album and ten year recording career. Indeed, the best albums of Nicolette Larson’s career are Nicolette, In The Nick Of Time and Radioland. These three albums have been reissued by BGO Records as a newly remastered double album. The sound quality is stunning, and is a  fitting reminder of a truly talented artist, Nicolette Larson. Sadly, her career was cut tragically sort.

Nicolette Larson died on December 16th 1997, aged just forty-five. That day, music lost a truly talented singer who could’ve and should’ve a long and successful career. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. However, Nicolette, In The Nick Of Time and Radioland are a reminder of Nicolette Larson, a talented and versatile vocalist who could breath life, meaning and emotion into a song.

NICOLETTE LARSON-NICOLETTE/IN THE NICK OF TIME/RADIOLAND.

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