Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators, Happiness In Every Style, Timmion Records

Release Date: October 2, 2015
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Written, Produced & Performed by Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators.

Nicole Willis – Vocals, background vocals
Pete Toikkanen – Guitar
Seppo Salmi – Guitar
Sami Kantelinen – Bass
Jukka Sarapää – Drums
Antti Määttänen – Organ
Erno Haukkala – Trombone
Lasse Tolvanen – Tenor sax
Martti Vesala – Trumpet, flugel horn
Jimi Tenor – Tenor sax, flute, vibes, background vocals
Antti Lauronen – Baritone sax, tenor sax, bass flute, percussion

Horn arrangements by the horn section, except “One In A Million” by Jimi Tenor, “Where Are You Now” by Martti Vesala and “Hot Sauce” by Erno Haukkala & Antti Lauronen

Recorded by Jukka Sarapää, Sami Kantelinen, & Antti Lauronen at Timmion Records, Helsinki, Finland
Vocals recorded by Jimi Tenor at Piparjuuri Studios, Helsinki, Finland
Mixing by Roni Martin at Martin & Harrison, Helsinki, Finland
Photography by Jimi Tenor
Style by Janic
Sleeve Illustration by Phoebe Lehto
Sleeve Design by Graffi-Tex
Executive Producers – Sami Kantelinen & Jukka Sarapää

Album Review

The recipe continues to develop on Happiness in Every Style. “One in a Million” opens with a sunny disposition best exemplified by the vibrancy of the horn section and Willis’ direct, sturdy vocalizing. Propelling the track is a lively yet agile rhythmic engine as the guitars, provided by Pete Toikkanen and Seppo Salmi, are delivered with buoyant precision.

Crucial is the tasteful restraint of Anti Maattanen on the organ, his good judgment particularly striking during “Where Are You Now,” the cut bringing it down a few notches for a deep groove spotlighting Willis’ expressive abilities. Integrating hand percussion and an atmosphere that’s smooth but not slick, the aura lands firmly in the ‘70s.

Notably, the overall scenario lacks the string ambiance of their prior efforts; instead the thrust is inclined toward the Roots end of the soul spectrum. The brisker pace of “Let’s Communicate” can and assuredly will move bodies, but Happiness in Every Style doesn’t aim for the ‘70s-era dance floor or pop chart. As indicative in the title, Willis and the Investigators desire to raise consciousness through pure soul verve.

Standout track “Angel” expertly settles down, the singer navigating her lyrics with a mingling of intensity and finesse, the music reminiscent of the elevated science produced at Royal Studios in the early ‘70s. Indeed, throughout the LP Willis and crew’s rapport attains a clear peak, and a pair of instrumentals reinforces the Soul Investigators as considerably more than mere back-up.

“Bad Viberations” is the first, and it unfurls a relaxed but tough groove as a springboard for an excursion into funky fluting. Akin to the organ, a badly applied flute can frequently spoil an otherwise appealing soul smorgasbord; happily Jimi Tenor avoids the snafu of too many notes and simultaneously resists plunging into aural foofery, “Bad Viberations” flowing like a soundtrack to a ‘70s action flick.

The Lalo Schifrin mood is only intensified on the second instrumental “Vulture’s Prayer,” its reverberations coming deep on the second side and inspiring visions of a leather jacket clad narcotics cop tooling around municipal pavement in a souped-up sports car. After “Bad Viberations” Willis returns with the robust positivity of “Together We Climb,” the song highlighting the tightening stylistics; unlike the intermittent Northern Soul flashes of earlier outings, Happiness in Every Style remains rooted in the 1970s. After a dynamic organ spot, the cut unexpectedly fades out just as Willis reenters.

“Open Sky” provides another vocal showcase amidst some of the disc’s finest blowing, most impressively in the non-standard-issue stabs of trombone. Next, “Paint Me in a Corner”’s bright temperament, purposefully enhanced by the jaunty horns, Tenor’s vibe playing and Willis’ overdubbed backing, offers a terrific slice of Philly soul, and “Thief in the Night” lowers the heat one more time as Martti Vesala dishes superb trumpet; altogether it’s like a tidbit of a late set from the stage of Smalls Paradise.

The CD culminates with “Hot Sauce,” a potent bonus track previously available on a Timmion Records’ 12-inch Disco Single featuring breathily intoning as the band inspects a humid funk milieu for over six minutes. Lending the set a nice capper, even without “Hot Sauce” Happiness in Every Style is a rousing success; Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators have honed their expertise into a record of significant value.

- Jeff Neff - The Vinyl District