Album Review – Priceless By Joey Niceforo
Review By Benjamin Gibson
Full disclosure because that’s important – Joey Niceforo is a long time friend of mine, but I’m going to try and be as objective as possible while writing this review – and I’ve told him that. Hi Joey! I’m going to make you share this article. I digress. Joey Niceforo’s latest full-length album “Priceless” is luxurious. It took a while to get that word right; the album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, where Niceforo was backed up by a full sized orchestra – this produces layers of sounds coupled with the formidable strength of Niceforo’s vocals, it feels absolutely huge. Sorry about the “huge” everybody.
Priceless left me feeling like I just walked out of a great movie, I don’t particularly remember the movie but I remember liking it – it probably had mountains.
This is the second album by Niceforo and definitely one where he’s found his footing. He’s more casual and in tune with himself and there are even points when I forgot there was a full orchestra – his voice very much stands in its own right. I get the sense that he’s taking a less traveled route with his voice, it’s so much more sophisticated than the “updated lounge sound” delivered by others.
No doubt the album sounds so immaculately produced because, well it was immaculately produced. Niceforo worked with Sam Reid of Glass Tiger and John Jones (Adel and Sam Smith to name drop a bit) and Steve Sidwell – there’s all kinds of Grammy / Juno awards in that crowd – check them out, but after you’re done here.
Let’s get into the music – I’ve been listening to the album to get myself in the mood to write this so I’m going to spin it up again and take you through some thoughts. I want to preface the next bit with two things I want you to keep in mind. 1. Joey told me (probably in confidence) that he performed the songs on the album because they each told a beautiful story that meant something to him. 2. He named the album after one of the producers Steven Price, when I asked him about it he told me this.
“We were at the CN tower having thanksgiving dinner, and we were talking about making the album and reminiscing about the Winner takes it all video… I noticed how nice it was that Steve Price was in the video (the Grammy award winning sound engineer who recorded and mixed the album for us, who unfortunately just passed away shortly after the recording). Sonja was saying how amazing the whole experience was and that the making of the album was ‘Priceless’. We also thought how fitting it was that Steve Price has a small cameo in the video… usually they’re behind the scenes but it’s nice he now has a legacy in the video. After talking to Steve’s wife Mandy, asking her if we could honour him in this way she was beyond thrilled and honoured, we decided this was the right name for the album.”
Ok, on to the music – I promise this time. It All Begins with Love is the first track and second single off Priceless. It’s definitely on the softer side to start and the build is strong. What strikes me even on the first track is how Niceforo’s music sounds almost rock or even pop (good pop) but it’s obviously not because, there is an orchestra instead of a band. The arrangements and vocals are looser than classical music so it’s not that either. It’s cool.
Note to God, again full disclosure – Jesse and myself where part of the team that made the video for this song. Now that I’ve lost ALL journalistic integrity here, we’re just going to talk about the song Note to God. Which of course is what made the video so awesome! Check out the video here: 😉
So the song Note to God was written by the Grammy award winning Diane Warren and is performed by Niceforo flawlessly. It was also the second single off Priceless – and it’s important, or at least meaningful for right now. The lyrics are hopeful and while I don’t believe in a traditional kind of god etc etc. I think if more of us wanted change in the world then that would be an ok place to start to get things better than they are.
The next and probably still one of my favourite tracks on Priceless is Winner Takes It All. Not just because it’s an ABBA song performed alongside a London Orchestra in the most refined and powerful way you could ever imagine. There is a video for this one too – produced by Toronto’s Revolver Films, filmed in studio at Abbey Road in London, UK. I would genuinely love to see a reaction video of Meryl Streep watching Niceforo’s video for Winner Takes It All. Yes, I would want to see her reaction more than any member of the original band. Because, Meryl Streep.
Falling at Your Feet is another really solid track. It builds up to a really wonderful arrangement at the chorus- again picking up a pop/rock feeling.
The track Solitaire brings it down a notch in energy but it suits the track. I can’t listen to this one on repeat – it gets me all in the mood to be a little sad, a little romanced and a little into the Scotch. I say that and yet as I listen the orchestra refines the sounds and brings a more layered and full feeling to the track.
Where Time Stands Still was originally recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter – so this is by far the most disconnected I am to one of the covers on Priceless. This happens to also be one of my favourite tracks – admittedly in a guilty pleasure kind of way. The song bares the same kind of orchestral builds and incredible arrangements that compliment a voice as strong as Niceforo delivers throughout Priceless.
When I moved to Toronto I worked for a while as a bartender in a Piano bar – so I’m very familiar with the track Live Like Horses. Unsurprisingly Niceforo delivers this in a way that may be stronger and maybe, the most emotional, that I’d ever heard.
Compass is a track I would be happy to listen to in a warm rainstorm walking home. The thing I’m loving is the optimism that comes through Niceforo’s voice – this feeling of optimism is reflected in the arrangements too, intentionally or not.
When the Words Won’t Come is a love song, it’s probably the most love song love song on the album. Was that a saxophone? I get a sense from this song that it’s more on the reserved side of Niceforo’s choices for the album – as far as the arrangements go. This is that sexy kind of love song that Catholic moms don’t have to feel guilty about. Hell yes that was a saxophone!
The beginning of A Star to Guide Me Home just made me check my iPod. This is actually pretty great. It’s a beautiful song although it’s in Italian so there’s that. We don’t all speak Italian Joey. Pretty song though
I phoned the last song in to be straight up, less because it’s in Italian, but more because I wanted to talk about the freaking Tom Waits song on the album. Take it With Me is a song written and originally recorded by Tom Waits (don’t worry Niceforo got his permission and stuff – cool right?). The delivery of the song on Niceforo’s track is a bit different to the original – although entirely true to the spirit of the original. It breaks my heart. Every. Damn. Time. The piano was a nice touch.
The last song on Priceless is Open Arms – yep! The last track is a Journey song! Well sort of. Niceforo actually has a writing credit for the Italian version of this particular Journey song. Like if you say to Journey “who wrote the Italian lyrics for your song Open Arms” they would probably have to check, but the they would totally eventually say “Oh, Joey Niceforo wrote the Italian version of Open Arms!”. Please comment with Journey’s email address.
Priceless is genuinely a piece of musical art, and rose to number three on iTunes on its release day. I recommend giving it more than one listen. If you’re reading this you’re probably not Niceforo’s typical demographic but go for it anyways – feel a little like you’re living in more of a motion picture – and consider the orchestra for the countless different parts that it is. Orchestras are so cool. I’ll try and put together an article on some indie-orchestra style groups that are super plinky plunky and complicated and awesome.
Priceless is available on iTunes and Spotify.