My favorite contestant from season three of NBC’s The Voice was “Nicholas David,” the easier-to-pronounce name of Nicholas Mrozinski, a Minnesota soul singer who covered some fantastic pop soul classics on the hit TV show. I was excited to see what else he had done. After contacting his “people,” we decided to have me write an artist spotlight on his entire discography. After spending a ton of time with this remarkable musician’s work, I’m happy to say he’s got some really phenomenal gems. So kick back, relax, and be prepared to encounter the man and band they call “the Feelin’.”
Four Legged Light (2004)
Mrozinski’s first full album was a 15 song tour de force called Four Legged Light released in 2004. The second song on the album, “Elements,” reflects the classic soul music that clearly influenced Nick’s writing style. That said, it was evident that he hadn’t yet developed his writing chops. Some of the lyrics jumbled together. While the song had a nice, smooth rhythm throughout, it was evident he (and his band) were still growing. “Maxwell’s Front Step” had an acoustic Jim Croce sound to it, calming the listener into an almost cathartic sound. “Sometimes I wish I was somewhere else… and when I’m there all I wanna do is bask in your hope.” Nick’s vocals really soar on this song, probably the best on the album. When he speeds up and brings a bit more soul into the chorus, it’s evident that he had the potential to really explode. In fact, the stripped down sound made the song work much better than a full studio produced version would have. The guitar work on “Past the Clouds” and “Smell the Dawn” are in a completely different class compared to the rest of the album. Each with their own unique styles, they both show off an incredible musical ability that, frankly, was not evident for viewers of the Voice. It’s a side of Nick that many will find welcome.
“What’s with the Rush” is the song that we expected to hear from Nick. It’s soulful, showing off his vocal range and overall style. Listening to the song evokes images of Nick throwing his head back to express, “we all gotta slow down.” It’s got the quintessential cultural critic lyrics layered over a soulful jam beat. It’s the kind of song that goes down smooth with a good rust belt beer. “Beautiful” has an admirable funk to it that helps establish a form that Nick revisited later in his artistry. And just when I thought I had Nick’s “style” pegged, one of the best written (although unfortunately not the most polished performance) songs on the album was “Now.” With a gorgeous acoustic finger picked guitar part and two part vocal blending, the song bridged a gap between the typical singer-songwriter relaxing acoustic fare and something a bit more jazz infused. This is definitely one worth reworking for a re-release. The finale with “Maybe So” is a blues-inspired beautiful solo track. It might be the best pure performance by Nick on the whole album. All told, the album shows the rough-hewn potential of a star in the making.
The Sacred Play of Life (2008)
The first album with his Feelin’ Band, this album took a clear step in a new direction toward a more progressive soulful sound. “From Start to Finish” keys us into the immediate step up in production quality from FLL to Sacred Play. The band, also, changes the overall sound that Mrozinski presents to his listeners. His voice matured a little, but his writing… improved by a lot. The love song, “Another Glimpse of Beauty” has some obvious inspiration behind. The mix has just the right amount of reverb on Nick’s voice to let it carry over the music. It’s a great song overall, clearly influenced by great love songs of the 70s in particular.
“The Lovely Lila Downs” shows a considerable amount of jazz influence. While Mrozinski’s writing hits on several different styles, this one is in a unique category of a sort of island jazz fusion. He follows it up with the raw funk of “I’m Interested.” Mrozinski’s vocals are on point and the slap bass makes the song. It’s a dancehall jam with enough swagger to really work. “Live for Today” has a Bob Marley flavor to it. The sound effects aren’t particularly convincing, but the beat and overall vibe of the song is fun. “Take, take me home. I strive to be a beacon of light. I try to be a messenger of love.” It’s an overtly positive song that encourages listeners to join in on the fun.
“Villain” sounds like it came right out of a musical and really doesn’t have a place on this album, that said it makes me wonder if Nick could legitimately write a full musical with this kind of personality and flavor. I’d love to hear that. At the end of the album, “Maybe Someday” is the song I was hoping for. It’s soul. It showcases a piano and Nick’s killer vocals. This is Nick Mrozinski at his best, in his best style.
Oak Chase Way (2008)
The year 2008 was a prolific one for Nick Mrozinski’s songwriting efforts. With his second album on the year, Oak Chase Way brought back some of the familiar solo sounds heard on FLL. Solo Nick on “How Many Times,” the first track on the album, is indicative of the style heard on the rest of the album, featuring Nick on keys. I was reminded of Nick’s brilliant artistry. While some of his other songs are more daring or take more risks, this simple song construction with a high production quality reminds listeners just how plainly talented he is. You can tell; he feels it.
“The World Before Me” sounds like a contemporary classical music song. It’s got a full piano sound and transcendent vocals, which make Nick sound like Elton John. It’s really an incredible performance and the piano/vocal balance is phenomenal. What’s good about this song (compared to other tracks on the album) is that it has a simple lyric construction, which makes it easier for the listener to connect. “Let’s bring the beauty back…” is a repetitive, yet powerful and meaningful lyric. “Would you quiet your heart if you could? Spend more time in the morning light.” This song, to me, is a ground breaker for Nick and one of his best.
A few of the songs on the album are found on the earlier two, but they are in different form with Nick on the piano here. This flavor is really a welcome way to hear Mrozinski’s artistry. His style is an obviously blues/jazz inspired song construction, but he at times puts a pop phrasing into his vocals which make the Billy Joel and Elton John comparisons really hold up well. For example, “Takin’ a Break from the Break” is performed like a pop song, but really at its core is a blues song (both in sound and sadness). “Another Glimpse of Beauty” has a full, pop sound that seems to defy genres. In some ways it’s an “acoustic” song, and the lyrics “blessed be your thoughts, blessed be your dreams” put listeners in the mind of gospel. It’s yet another positive, inspired piece of soul music. “From Start to Finish,” heard on Sacred Play has a different style here, but is no less a toe-tapping joy. “Butter” is a smooth track both in terms of the bluesy piano licks as well as the vocal melody line. It might be the best song to describe the identity of Nick Mrozinski as an artist overall. The instrumental “Mrozinski” at the end of the album is wonderful and could, really, inspire another all-piano album from Nick. (hint, hint)
Together We’re Stronger (2009)
After the piano goodness in OCW it was a little bit of a genre bend to get back to Nick with a full band. None of the first five songs on the album really give us the standard Nick Mrozinski style. Instead, he takes on more of an “indie rock” style. They are good in their own way, but definitely not the Mrozinski style (or should I say “feel”) that most listeners would expect out of Nick’s music. The sixth track “Return” isn’t a pure soul song, but has a nice pop vocal chorus that creates a vibe much more familiar.
The incredible piano action on “And You Will” is a lot like the work on OCW. Again getting away from the soulful sound typical of Nick’s work, the song has a sort of blended affect that is more country/pop than anything. The quaint, “At the Table with Passion” is an absolute gem in the midst of this genre bending album. While I don’t know much about Nick’s personal life, I’d venture to guess that this song has a deep reflection on family. It’s existential and sweet. “Running from forever when I know that it’s not right.” What a fantastic line. This is easily the best songwriting on the album, and one of the more enjoyable songs in his discography overall. The gesture to The Eagles’ “Desperado” made on “Della Jean” was not lost on me. It’s another beautiful acoustic treat, featuring some exquisite guitar picking. To explain my appreciation for this song in consumptive terms, if this were a visual art exhibit instead of a collection of music, I would buy this one and put it on my wall at home. I just love everything about the character of “Della Jean,” through its whimsy and comfort. What an unexpected delight tacked on the end of this album.
In Formation (with Dylan Nau) EP (2011)
From the opening notes of “Dragon” it is evident that this is not a typical Nick Mrozinski style. Or, at least, it’s not the soulful Nick listeners might expect to follow in the steps of Bill Withers. Instead, it’s an electronic-based jazz mix that, if I had to categorize, I would just call “experimental.” In fact, the whole album has a little bit of a different style to it with the infusion of electronic styling. “The Gem” starts out more traditionally, but also turns to the experimental style. It’s interesting to hear this after having an idea of Nick’s overall artistry. He is certainly eclectic. Most of the effects on the album were more distracting than helpful toward the overall message of the songs. For its innovation, though, there’s definitely plenty to appreciate here.
When I take Nick’s discography as a whole, I have to say Oak Chase Way is far and above the best album. However, “At the Table with Passion” and “Della Jean” are both fantastic songs at the end of the Together album. What I loved about covering all of Nick’s music is seeing how he has changed and developed over time. I hope this doesn’t sound condescending, but I don’t think we’ve heard Nick’s best yet. “The best is yet to come” seems overly cliché, but in his case I believe it to be true. Some of his music is just stunning. I was especially stunned by the piano chops evident on OCW. It will be fascinating to see what he comes up with for his first post-show album release. For what it’s worth, I’d recommend working on a little more of that Bill Withers soul sound.
For those of you wondering which of these albums to get, I’d strongly recommend Oak Chase Way. Folks that like more experimental style music will enjoy In Formation. If you really like an eclectic mix of sounds, then Together We’re Stronger is an excellent choice. All told, this discography shows the development of a great American singer songwriter. Hopefully he’ll remember all of us “little people” as he launches further into stardom.