Copyright Decca Records

I want to hit the Fresh Faces category hard right out of the chute with a quick review of one of my new favorites – Nikki Yanofsky. Took in Nikki last fall at the One World Theatre in Austin, Tx. All I can say is wow… at least for the most part.

Nikki’s amazing talent shines when she’s plying the standards or the bluesy-jazz genres with songs like Take the “A” Train and “God Bless The Child”. When she’s belting out these songs she sounds way beyond her seventeen years – very impressive. Nikki channels Ella Fitzgerald (I’m not kidding!) with “Airmail Special”, “You’ll Have To Swing It (Mr. Paganini)” and an absolutely amazing delivery of “I Got Rhythm”. She clearly has a passion for the American songbook.

Nikki’s occasional foray into country-blues (“Try Try Try”) is also impressive and here she evokes a young Linda Ronstadt with an alternating soulful and powerful delivery that again is… impressive.

When performing these numbers you lose the sense of her scant seventeen years and get lost in her powerful vocal renderings. Watching her on stage (check out her excellent Nikki Yanofsky Live in MontrealDVD), her passion for the standards is evident, as is her playful spirit – especially with songs like “Old MacDonald “which rocks the house at he Montreal Jazz Festival.

Nikki has taken to writing her own songs and I find this work a bit more of a mixed bag. The numbers that land on that Ronstadt country-blues tone are superb. However with the exception of “Bienvenue dans ma vie” (Sultry French jazz number) and the aforementioned “Try Try Try”, her original material regularly falls into a more pop style that has me wondering if she’s going to make it to the next round on American Idol.

Ok that’s harsh, but some those pop efforts bring back the seventeen year old in full measure, and though there is absolutely nothing wrong with being seventeen and as talented as Nikki clearly is, it’s jarring to go from channeling Ella Fitzgerald one minute and then wondering whether Stephen Tyler likes her the next.

With pop girl singers pricing out at a dime a dozen these days, Nikki needs to stick with the standards/blues/jazz stuff — weave in an original pop tune every now and then for spice — then she will clean up!  I have not heard as talented and fresh a voice as Nikki Yanofsky brings to the American songbook for decades… again, wow.