By Dave Pehling

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Years before British divas the late Amy Winehouse and Adele scored critical and commercial success for their jazz-inflected takes on retro R&B, fiery American soul siren Nikka Costa had already blazed her own distinctive trail through vintage sounds. The daughter of renowned producer/arranger Don Costa who worked extensively with Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn and Sammy Davis Jr. (he also discovered Paul Anka and Trini Lopez), Domenica Costa was a precocious musical talent who started singing at a young age. By the time she was five, her father had already recorded her performing a duet with Hawaiian pop star Don Ho, launching Nikka’s career as a child performer who released several albums in Europe.

In the ’90s, Costa married Australian musician/producer Justin Stanley and relocated Down Under. She would front a couple of bands that moved her sound away from her pop past into a more soul and funk direction, issuing the Australia-only release Butterfly Rocket in 1996. The singer first made herself known in the states with the update of Sly Stone-influenced funk on her 2001 U.S. debut, Everybody Got Their Something, a collection co-produced by future Winehouse collaborator Mark Ronson five years before the global domination of Back to Black that featured the minor hit tunes “Like a Feather,” “Push & Pull” and the title tune.

Costa would issue several acclaimed albums including Can’tneverdidnothin’ for Virgin Records in 2005 that included covers of songs by cornerstone influences Tina Turner and Nina Simon and the gritty Stax Records 2008 effort Pebble to a Pearl featuring collaborations with ’70 soul/funk drumming legend James Gadson (Dyke & the Blazers, Bill Withers, Herbie Hancock) and modern keyboard great James Poyser, but despite stints touring with Prince — who she regularly shared the stage with — and Lenny Kravitz, she has largely remained a cult phenomenon.

The singer entered a period of quiet after the release of her 2011 EP Pro*Whoa, which dialed back the analog grit of her earlier work for a more modern electro-pop sheen. She resurfaced a couple of years ago to crowdfund her latest album, the acclaimed Nikka & Strings: Underneath and In Between that came out last year. A lushly arranged mix of soul and jazz standards, contemporary tunes and originals that was recorded in a single day, the release includes stunning versions of both familiar songs (“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Stormy Weather”) and some unusual choices (a heartbreaking rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should Have Come Over”). Costa comes to the Bay Area to play her first show here in several years, headlining Yoshi’s in Oakland Thursday night.

Nikka Costa
Thursday, May 24, 8 p.m. $24-$54


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