Recommended Tracks: “Sad Song”, “Feels Like Yesterday”, “Last Ones Up”
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On occasion, we may distract ourselves from sending work e-mails by reliving memories from high school or we may entertain ourselves on long drives with questions about what an ex is up to these days. Whether we want to think about these people or experiences is not always up to us – sometimes it just happens. For every now there is a then, which makes it natural to tie what we are doing today with what we did yesterday or last year or five years ago. On Nicole Rayy’s new album Now & Then, the country artist reflects on her past in order to celebrate her present and paves the way for who she will be tomorrow.
We begin the album with “Broken Boys,” which is one of a few songs on Now & Then that centers on relationships. On the track, Nicole explains her tendencies to “fix” the boys she lets into her life, mentioning that she was raised to always work through and repair certain objects and situations instead of casting them away. It is a playful, empowering song, lines like “I’m the hero of the story / Goin’ down in flames of glory / Even if it breaks me before it breaks them” speaking to those out there who act the same. We get more of a rock vibe on “House of Cards,” Nicole’s warm country vocals taking on a bolder, stronger sound. She focuses on a dangerous relationship that is as stable as a house of cards – one wrong move and the queens, jokers, kings, and everyone in between is down for the count. You can tell that Nicole is all for colorful details and exciting metaphors, which are elements that come through on “Graveyard.” For those looking to get revenge on their exes, “Graveyard” will definitely provide, as Nicole sings lines like “I come out when the moon shines / It’s when I make my plans” and “Be careful what you do / I’m comin’ for you.”
Keeping up with a good song for special occasions, Nicole offers songs like “Sad Song” and “Last Ones Up.” On “Sad Song,” she validates those out there, myself included, who need to listen to sad songs in order to feel better instead of upbeat, cheerful tunes. After mentioning go-to activities like hand holding or taking a fun trip to Disneyland in order to invoke happiness, she sings, “Who needs a sunny day to chase the blues away? / Sometimes, all that you want is to hear a sad song.” The bridge is where the lyrics and Nicole’s vocals jump out the most, as we hear, “Sometimes you need it even if it makes you cry / The only feeling that hurts and heals at the same time.” The vibe changes on party anthem “Last Ones Up,” where Nicole embodies the notion of living in the moment. There is something thrilling about staying up late when the rest of the world is asleep, or when other party-goers crash in this case. The lively production and sweet melodies will encourage this behavior of not missing out, especially when we hear “The party ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Of course, we couldn’t complete Now & Then without a couple solid nods to the past. We are transported about 20 years back in time on “Feels Like Yesterday,” when Britney and the Backstreet Boys were thriving. Nicole gives us the ultimate throwback to the 90s on here, laughing about memorizing phone numbers, missing favorite TV shows because she didn’t get home from school in time, and navigating without apps or GPS systems. The ultimate clencher is the recognizable riff from Third Eye Blind’s 1997 smash “Semi-Charmed Life” that comes through in the choruses. The closing track ties everything together, though, which also happens to be the title track. On this piano ballad, Nicole speaks to a friend from her past, from her hometown. She asks him, “Did you find a pretty girl and settle down? / Buy that house that you picked out?” and tells him, “I hope you learned to be a better man / Promised her what you couldn’t to me when we were kids.” We get the sense that she is not super involved with this person anymore but cannot help but wonder about how he turned out – the curiosity of what could have been grabbing hold and pulling her back.
Overall, Now & Then is an immersive experience. There is a little something for everyone, be it a song to cry to, dance to, scream to. Nicole gives us so many emotions and moments in time to pick from, which better enhances the “now and then” storyline. We feel as if we have been there or know people who have been right there with Nicole on these songs, taking certain people and thoughts to heart. Still, it is healthy to look forward to tomorrow just as it is healthy to reminisce and indulge in today, and we are excited to see how Nicole moves forward on her next release.
You can listen to Now & Then on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.