The long- awaited and oft-delayed third album from German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas is exactly what and ultimately more than what the fans expected. Truth be told, as gut-wrenching as it is for any artist to be forced to wait to unveil new work, the pandemic and dealing with assorted life-related curveballs seems to have worked in Cynthia’s favour. And the fact this is her first record to truly be billed as “Cynthia Nickschas & Friends” – the moniker she has played under for years – speaks volumes as to the creative energy that went into this record.
It definitely shows, 200%.
Cynthia’s acoustic-based, big band stage sound made a flawless transition to the studio for Is’ Halt So!, delivering her trademark jazz / blues / folk compositions with a live-off-the-floor warmth that a lot of records released in 2022 don’t have. Every instrument can be heard (saxophone, trumpet, violin, acoustic and electric guitars), everyone gets to shine even though Cynthia is the intended star of the show. The fact that many of these songs have been performed live for the last couple years (when that sort of thing was allowed) enabled Cynthia & Friends to arrange and refine them to the level we hear in recorded form.
Like every other musician that has been fortunate to make a living from their art, German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas found herself in freefall when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in March. As an artist that has made her reputation and her living on performing live, the forced cancellation of shows that had been planned for months was a kick in the teeth, and the fact nobody knows when concert venues will be open to the public again has a direct influence on her future. This is not how Cynthia expected to be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of her career.
Not at all.
“At first it was like ‘Oh shit, what about my job?’ because music is what I do,” she says, which comes as no surprise. “That’s my job. I guess you could say I was startled because all the gigs I had scheduled suddenly had to be cancelled. I didn’t know what to do, but once the shock wore off I got my financial stuff in order before everything else. I’ve been in debt before and don’t want to go through that again.”
That said, desperate times call for creative measures and Cynthia – along with her band – stepped out of her comfort zone for a livestream show in April. Not a big deal on the one hand considering so many musicians are doing the exact same thing, but Cynthia Nickschas & Friends is a unit that thrives on the energy of a live audience. Thus, there was the question in her head of just how well fans would respond to a performance via the internet from the showroom floor of a Bad Godesberg bike / scooter shop, supported only by her band, a technician, and her ever-faithful dog, Snoopy. Turns out it went over very well in spite of some technical difficulties, and the show was the trademark high energy performance her fans have come to expect.
“We had a great time, and it was really cool of the fans… they donated enough money so that I could pay my technician, pay my band, and still have something to live from. I’m very grateful for that. It was a really good show, and we’ve got the whole thing with proper sound and everything. I haven’t watched it all the way through because since that gig I’ve been pretty busy. We’ve been working on a songbook, we’re recording new music, and we’re going to release a live CD and DVD, although I don’t know when that will happen yet. And we’ve been writing new songs. If we’re done with recording before the end of the year maybe we’ll put something out. I’ve got enough songs but I want to do record it all together, I want it to be a band record, and it’s kind of shitty at the moment to be able to do that. So, until that happens we’ll prepare the material and put the songs together. We are recording stuff at Alwin’s (Moser / violin) place right now and it’s going to be pretty cool when everybody is involved.”
German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas’ 2018 album, Egoschwein, may well be the most punk thing to ever hit my sound system. And there isn’t a single hint of in-your-face distortion to be heard.
I’m definitely late to the party on this one, but I’ve found that in between the bouts of Arch Enemy, Children Of Bodom, Soilwork, Warrior Soul, Moonspell and Cradle Of Filth that shake the walls of my office on a regular basis, Egoschwein is a wonderful way to cleanse my musical pallet and educate my ears a little bit more.
Nickschas is a live performer first and foremost, dishing out her own unique brand of acoustic-based big-band blues-infused-jazz. Egoschwein sounds like it was recorded live off the floor, particularly the vocals, which have a smoke-and-whiskey edge one expects to hear from the stage, not from a polished studio recording. Any notes or tones that sound slightly off – a hair flat or a tad sharp – only add to the organic feel of the songs. She’s often reminiscent of Patti Smith circa 1979 crossed with classic Tracy Chapman, making for a sound all her own. Instrumentally, the album is loaded with musical fireworks and gentle nuance backing the acoustic guitar / bass / drums core with saxophone, violin (fiddle for you heathens), piano, some clean electric guitar, and a healthy dose of vocal ad-libs from Nickschas. While the songs stand on their own as solo / duo acoustic renditions – often performed that way – the full band adds a whole new dimension to the tracks, making them so much stronger.