With a soulful voice straight from the golden age of soul, country and rockabilly music, Tami Neilson has been described as “A red-hot honky-tonker, somewhere between Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson with perhaps just a little bit of Peggy Lee sophistication.” (Nick Bollinger, NZ National Radio)
Singing her heart out along endless roads and stages, from her days as a young girl in Canada touring with the Neilson Family band, opening for the likes of Johnny Cash, to her full blossoming in New Zealand as a formidable talent in her own right, Tami Neilson has won the Tui Award for each of her past four albums.
In 2014, Tami was also awarded the APRA Silver Scroll, New Zealand’s most prestigious music award for excellence in songwriting, for her song “Walk (Back to Your Arms)”, as well as “Best Female Artist” at the National Country Music Awards and APRA’s “Best Country Song” at the NZ Country Music Awards. The release of her explosive album “Dynamite!” received rave reviews in MOJO, The Guardian (named “Top 10 Best Country Music Album”) and climbed to #1 on the NZ Music Charts, and winning the title of 2015’s “Best Country Music Album”. In 2018, Tami released the critically acclaimed SASSAFRASS!, nominated for “Album of the Year” at the NZ Music Awards, receiving glowing reviews in Rolling Stone Country, American Songwriter. Her latest album, CHICKABOOM was just released this year on Valentine’s Day and is already garnering worldwide praise, right out of the gate, Pop Matters and No Depression.
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No one forgets the first time they saw Tami Neilson.
She can hush a room with an original song that channels the hurting spirit of Patsy Cline or the sensuality of Peggy Lee, or bring the audience to its feet on a rockabilly raver.
She’s an artist with real range, whose powerful voice can take on big ballads, golden-age country, heartfelt Gospel, soul-infused R&B, Western swing, even old-style rock ‘n’ roll. Tami encompasses them all and is a personality-powered cyclonic force of nature in stylishly retro attire, long lashes and a stacked-high beehive.
Previous media accolades come from both sides of the Atlantic, including Rolling Stone, which called her “a fire-breathing belter on her own terms” and the U.K.’s Guardian, which asserted that “her powerhouse voice recalls 1950s stars such as Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline.”
Of her new album’s title, CHICKABOOM!, Tami explains, “I wanted to write an album of punchy little songs, popping firecrackers that, when stripped back to nothing but a guitar, percussion and two voices, would still go boom!” The new collection brings much personal and family history to the table.
Tami grew up performing across North America with the Neilson Family Band, working alongside greats such as Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker, and Kitty Wells. With her parents Betty and Ron (her late father a songwriter of considerable accomplishment) and two brothers Todd (drums) and Jay (bass), she spent years on the road learning her craft. This enabled Tami to explore her increasing vocal and emotional range and build a deep well of musical influences to draw upon when she started to write her own material.
Subsequently, Tami fell in love with a New Zealander, moved to the bottom of the world and began her solo career. Over many years she built a platform for herself through open-mic nights, playing soulless casinos and the dead-air time-slots at festivals, finding a small group of fellow travellers and supportive players, and then a series of increasingly impressive albums followed.
The early records saw her in a self-created territory between mainstream country and alternative country, a couple recorded around the kitchen table back home in Canada with brother Jay, who is now an acclaimed producer and songwriter. Then awards started coming in New Zealand for albums that added breadth to her “country singer” label: Best Female Artist, Best Country Album, Best Country Song, an APRA Silver Scroll (songwriting) award and Album of the Year nominations. Her Dynamite! album of 2014 received rave reviews in Britain’s MOJO and the Guardian named it a Top 10 Best Country Music Album. Tami’s songs appeared on the Netflix series Wanted and the terrestrial TV series Nashville.
Tami Neilson’s singing and writing is too big to contain, as HMV noted: “There are singers and then there is Tami Neilson, for whom the word singer just isn’t big enough.”
The road has now led to CHICKABOOM!, which is something different again, and even more personal. “In the past year, I started to notice something,” she says. “The artists I would spend time with backstage at festivals, the ones I gravitated to the most and followed on social media … artists like the Secret Sisters, Shovels & Rope, Kasey Chambers, Brandi Carlile … they all have family performing with them. When you tour away from loved ones, it makes a world of difference to have part of your village with you on the road. Not to mention, nothing can come close to that special blend of blood harmonies and silent communication that only comes from being onstage with a person for over 30 years. Family has always been a huge part my music-writing, recording and creating with me, but I wanted family on this project and on the road with me again.” Brother Jay flew to Auckland, New Zealand from Toronto to record a selection of new songs that have unmistakable sibling magic and harmonies. “I don’t think he quite understands what he’s gotten himself into but now the album’s coming out it’s a bit too late. Sucker,” she laughs.
And if you’ve missed Tami before — on record or in concert — then you are in for a treat … and you might not quite understand what you’ve gotten yourself into either.
As I say: you’ll never forget the first time you saw Tami.
-GRAHAM REID, Elsewhere
Auckland, New Zealand