There’s an ease and familiar grace to the way that Nick Daugherty sings. With a grounding in acoustic rock, luminescent pop, and gospel soul, Daugherty’s music shimmers with an infectiousness that separates him from the vast pack of aspiring artists and songwriters. His debut album,Movin’ Higher, is a collection of songs that is the sound of a man finding the full dimension of his talent for the first time, establishing him as a significant new artist to watch.
Movin’ Higher is the product of Daugherty’s tenaciousness and wisdom in finding great collaborators to both enhance his music and push him to be his best. Working with veteran producer Mandi Martin, who has worked with legends like Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Oleta Adams as well as musicians like Wrecking Crew member and Motown session guitarist Don Peake, the songs on the album showcase a rare combination of beautifully written lyrics with masterful pop/rock/soul arrangements, letting the ebullient quality of each song shine through.
It’s been a long road for Daugherty to arrive where he is now. The Lake Charles, Louisiana native has been writing and playing music since his early teens. Nick’s initial exposure to music was through singing gospel in his church choir and listening to pop artists like Sting, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins and others. He says, “All I knew about music as a kid was pop radio and gospel, but everything changed for me when I heard an interview with John Mayer where he talked about bluesmen like Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy. That opened up a whole new world for me and led to my love of blues, jazz, and R&B.”
With his love of music expanding, Nick soon saw different possibilities for his own music. “Blues and jazz is just more colorful – it’s a better palette to paint with,” he says. “I still love pop, and that’s still present in my music, but I love working with the whole spectrum of colors in blues, jazz and soul. Life is not as simple as ‘happy or sad’ – it’s more complex, and I want my songs to convey those complexities.”
After attending college at Baylor University in Texas, Nick enlisted in the U.S. military and did one active duty tour as an officer. And while the military was a tremendous experience, Nick saw his music “going by the wayside,” as he puts it. He continues, “I put out a demo CD, but being in Los Angeles (where Nick was stationed and currently resides), I knew I was a small fish in a really big pond. So once my tour ended, I decided to give myself a year to really give it my all and go for a record deal.”
That goal inspired Daugherty to build a website (www.NicksJourney.com) and to create its featured attraction, “How to Get a Record Deal in 365 Days.” Its rewards were almost immediate. Over 120,000 people visited the daily blog to check his progress, and it began to spread the word about his music. “About a month into it, I met Mandi [Martin], who soon became my producer, and whose impact on my music has been invaluable. We decided to put out a record independently, and through that process I started my own label, Skyrocket RecordsTM.”
Producer Mandi Martin’s influence has been enormous on Nick. “She ripped me apart,” laughs Nick. “I thought I was ready to record, but she refused to take me into the studio until the songs were ready. She had me examine each one in depth, and even rewrite several from the ground up. Sometimes, I thought a song would be done, but she’d tear it apart again, and I’d rewrite it… again. We went round and round for ten months like this, and I had to swallow my pride, but each time the songs came out stronger.”
When the time finally came to record Movin’ Higher, Mandi called on an A-list set of musicians she had known and worked with for years. “She got us the best players in town,” states Nick. “Besides Don Peake, she got guys like Voyce McGinley (drummer for Kitaro and Cirque du Soleil), Alex Del Zoppo (keyboardist from the band Sweetwater), and Paul Marshall (bassist from the band Strawberry Alarm Clock). Everyone added their own bit of magic to the album and the result is masterful.”
From the first notes of “Movin’ Higher,” the album’s title track, the sound is one of joy and rebirth. Intricately arranged, with subtle percussion, gorgeously picked acoustic guitar, rich organ and piano lines and enveloping background vocals, the song is Nick’s statement of where he’s been and where he’s going. The sound is all his own – a synthesis of soul, pop and gospel that feels familiar yet rings with a singular tone.
“A Thousand Times Tonight” shimmers with a sense of mystery and wonder that comes with falling in love for the first time. It’s impossibly romantic, and with another brilliant arrangement featuring a gorgeous string section, the music not only supports Nick’s lyrics, but takes it to another level entirely. Daugherty’s phrasing is a wonder – powerful and passionate throughout, soaring in the right places, but never over the top.
“I Won’t Stand For Watching You Fall Down” reaches an emotional crucible that is spellbinding. Written as a letter from a big brother to a little sister, the song emerged towards the end of the album’s recording. “I got a call from my family one night telling me that she was in some trouble,” Nick recalls, “and being out here in California, I was powerless to help. That night, the words just poured out of me.” Recorded with just acoustic guitar and strings, the song is a hymn and a reverie, born out of love, commitment and concern. There is a hushed intimacy to Daugherty’s vocals, and the tale reveals his songwriting abilities to be of the first rank.
The powerful imagery and beautiful melodies of his songs lend themselves perfectly for film and TV placements. Daugherty has created a stirring collection of songs that promise to become his calling card in the intensely competitive music world of 2009. With its sheer excellence, it promises immensely exciting possibilities for this singer/songwriter.
With Movin’ Higher’s release, Nick is ready to hit the road on tour – first locally and then nationally this fall. “I’m coming to a city near you,” Nick declares. “Come out and say hello.”