Finnish Soul That Fuses the Past and Present

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Nicole Willis works in retro-soul, but her work is anything but anachronistic. Jimi Tenor hide caption

itoggle caption Jimi Tenor

Friday's Pick

  • Song: "No One's Gonna Love You"
  • Artist: Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators
  • CD: Keep Reachin' Up
  • Genre: Soul

Finland may not be the first place to look for one of the best soul albums in recent years, but that's where singer Nicole Willis calls home — a likely reason her 2005 CD Keep Reachin' Up didn't come to the attention of many Americans until this year, when it finally found U.S. distribution.

Willis and her band The Soul Investigators ostensibly operate in the vein of so-called retro-soul artists — musicians and singers, groomed on classic R&B, who fashion their music as if it actually came out in that era. Willis' aesthetic clearly leans toward the past, but she demonstrates tremendous stylistic versatility, churning out songs that nod backwards yet sound anything but anachronistic.

"No One's Gonna Love You" embodies the sum total of the band's strengths. The opening guitar decrescendo and riff nods to '60s soul with touches of surf-rock and film noir scores swirled in, especially once the B-3 organ creeps into the arrangement. Willis doesn't have the belting power of retro-soul singers like Sharon Jones, but she possesses studied vocal nuances that allow her to coast in over the rhythm section and make her sultry, bluesy presence felt.

What takes "No One's Gonna Love You" over the top is its chorus, wherein the arrangement unexpectedly takes off, with a back-up voice jumping in and playing against Willis' own. It's a sudden moment of transformation, as the song takes on a new depth and character before sliding back into a mid-tempo groove, leaving listeners ready for its return.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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