Rare Child

Danielia Cotton

Adrenaline Records, 2008


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Ever wondered what it would have been like if, sometime around 1971, Tina Turner, Jimmy Page, Bonnie Raitt and Keith Richards had magically been merged into a single person -- a young, black, guitar-slinging, soul-singing rock and roll goddess?

Me neither. At least, until I first heard Danielia Cotton.

That would have been in 2005, when I reviewed her debut full-length Small White Town. That disc was, in its own way, Cotton’s musical autobiography, tracing her roots as one of seven black kids at the local high school in her small New Jersey hometown. The daughter of a jazz singer who often sang choir, Cotton as a child was exposed in equal doses to gospel, jazz and heavy 70s rock like Zeppelin, the Stones and AC/DC.

All of which is necessary background to Rare Child, Cotton’s major-label debut. (Granted, Adrenaline advertises itself as “independent,” but they’re distributed by Warner and feature multiple name acts.) This album, co-produced by Brad Jones (Jill Sobule, Over the Rhine), Joe Blaney (Shawn Colvin, Soul Asylum) and Cotton herself, assertively positions her as the next big black rock crossover artist, following in the footsteps of predecessors from Jimi Hendrix to Living Colour to Lenny Kravitz.

That might sound a little ambitious. And the sense of swagger is only reinforced when leadoff track “Make U Move” announces itself with the chant “’Cause I’m a little black girl, gonna rock your world / So come one move with me.” But like Reggie Jackson said, it ain’t bragging if you can do it.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It takes maybe thirty seconds for “Make U Move” to storm the deepest recesses of your cerebral cortex, a throbbing, grinding statement of purpose that’s pure blues-rock nitroglycerin. Lead guitarist Kareem Devlin doubles on clavinet, underwiring the chunky, Zeppelinesque guitar chords with a layer of power funk. The lady wanted to open with a statement – and boy did she.

Second song -- and first single -- “Testify” eases the throttle back a notch, pushing a strong melody over acoustic rhythm guitar and Hammond accents. Still, on the choruses Cotton lets fly with her voice and reminds you what a powerful instrument she wields every time she opens her mouth.

The title track is a thundering Cream homage supporting more autobiographical mission statement declarations (“I’m a rare child / Set to make history / I’m a rare child / Just because I’m me”). The one cover tune here, “Dark Desire,” feels like a lost Bonnie Raitt cut, showing off the gentler side of Cotton’s vocals on the verses before blasting off into throaty r&b nirvana on the choruses. And “Bound” is a dynamite closer, a slow-building blues-rock tour de force, soft and easy at first, all thunder and grind by the finish.

In between, Cotton stretches out with a couple of melodic rock and soul tunes in the Raitt vein (“Bang My Drum,” “Righteous People,”) and a trio of sweetly rolling ballads (“Didn’t U,” “Running,” “Let It Ride”) that show off her gospel roots to strong effect.

Danielia Cotton has got the goods – an astonishingly powerful voice, a terrific ear for melody, and musical range that can take you from soaring gospel to chord-crunching blues-rock in a single three-minute song. With a major label behind her, the sky is the limit for a talent this big.

The one real issue I have with Rare Child is, of all things, the art direction. The photo shoot done for this disc wouldn’t be out of place in Vogue – which means the high-toned visuals are completely out of sync with the earthy music, suggesting she’d just as soon be a celebrity spokesmodel as a working singer-songwriter. The front cover of this album should be a cross between Small White Town and Bonnie Raitt’s Nick Of Time -- casually confident, guitar-slinging young woman looking right into the camera, daring you to doubt her gift.

Maybe next time – because with the gift Cotton shows off here, you can bet there will be a next time.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Adrenaline Records, and is used for informational purposes only.