Nickel&Rose’s 2018 EP, Americana, could best be described as promising. The five-track release sits around 17 minutes long but manages to cover a decent amount of ground, melding influences of (unsurprisingly) americana, bluegrass, folk, soul, and gospel. Ultimately, the EP feels more like a sampler than a cohesive body of work, and this is only amplified by two singer-songwriters each bringing their unique backgrounds and influences to the table.
Nickel&Rose is an acoustic duo based out of Milwaukee. Johanna Rose sings and plays upright bass, and Carl Nichols brings intricate acoustic guitar melodies paired with powerful baritone vocals. The pair trade off singing lead throughout the EP, though harmonies certainly abound. Nichols’ songs have more grit to them – if not for his voice, certainly for an overall fuller sound. Rose’s songs bear a stronger semblance to bluegrass, with a barren earthiness that seems to underlie her songwriting.
While their songwriting methods do seem complementary, there’s still enough disparity between the styles that listeners might prefer one artist over the other. Perhaps this would be less noticeable if there was more instrumentation at play – there is accompanying fiddle and mandolin on the release but it’d be interesting to see things would sound with keys, more acoustic percussion, or banjo.
That’s certainly not to say they don’t make good use of their resources, though. “Dog River” is a harmony-heavy track with a bluesy foundation; “Americana” is full of pop sensibility; “Moving Pianos” is a café-friendly bluegrass jam; “Life Goes On” is soulful and heartfelt; “Hard Day’s Work” is relaxed without forfeiting character.
Lyrically, the EP tackles the subject of racial segregation and cultural appropriation when it comes to many genres of music. The pair shine a light on the African roots central to blues, jazz, and folk that are largely overlooked. This is most evident on the title track. Milwaukee in particular is infamous for being the most racially-segregated city in the United States, so the topics at hand are certainly pertinent to these songwriters.
Nickel&Rose tread a path between many genres but often veer toward one side or another for moments at a time; it’s evident the duo are experienced at what they do. They’ve spent time playing abroad in Europe, which is a testament to their ability to transcend national and cultural divides. Nonetheless, the duo’s catalog is admittedly still brief (the latter half being six tracks from 2017’s Oh Sweet Love) – even with their experience, they’re arguably still a “young” band and there’s plenty of time for them to explore their sound even more. But for now, listeners can enjoy an eclectic mix of tracks that meld roots and folk with acoustic pop-rock.
Nickel&Rose will be in Oshkosh on February 16, 2019 for Water City Racket Fest, with sets at the public library, Manila Resto, as well as a set at Ripon’s Vines & Rushes.