Review – Joey Niceforo

Album: Priceless
Release Date: April 13, 2018
Genre: Adult Contemporary/New Classic

This started out to be an album review for Joey Niceforo’s debut solo album, Priceless, but there is so much more to this project that is worth sharing. I hope by the end of this read, you will have great insight into the songs, the stories behind the making of this album and the man performing these beautiful pieces. NOTE: All quotes are from Joey Niceforo, himself.

Priceless is a collection of cover songs that hold meaning to Niceforo, either through the lyrics or the sentiment. As a vocalist, to truly be inspired by a song, you must feel it. Music is emotion and Joey Niceforo performs each song on this album with true passion. A few of these songs will stand out to you because of their popularity. Others are more obscure, yet so beautiful they will have new life on this recording.

Priceless was recorded between 2015 and 2016 at Abbey Road Studios in London, UK with an 86-piece orchestra and an impressive list of producers, mixers and arrangers that included Grammy Award winners Steve Sidwell (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), John Jones (Celine Dion), Steve Price (Adele and Sam Smith) and multi-JUNO Award winner Sam Reid (Glass Tiger). I’m not sure how, but businessman and TV personality, Kevin O’Leary (Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank) even found his way to Abbey Road and a credit on this album. Here is a video of him and Joey performing a song together.

Special mention must be given to Sonja Ucci, for without her support, none of this would have happened. She is the Executive Producer and dear friend to Niceforo.

The album title, Priceless, is a tribute to Engineer and Sound Mixer, Steve Price, who passed away in September 2017. It is a fitting title for this body of work and its classic sound.

Here are all the incredible songs on Priceless:

  1. It All Begins With Love (Andrew Gouche, Yvette Stevens, Melissa Vardey)

This was the album’s second single release on March 9, 2018. It doesn’t have an accompanying music video. Instead, the team put together a fun Vogue style 73 Questions with Joey Niceforo, full of fun facts about him and the album. The song is playing in the background throughout most of the video. FYI, this video was shot in Niceforo’s home. This house is exquisite and should be featured in a lifestyle magazine.

“”It All Begins with Love”, made popular by Declan Galbraith, was a song suggested to me by one my closest friends…At first, I didn’t think I could do it justice, so it was on the ‘probably not going to record it’ list. But once I realized how meaningful and touching the words were, I knew it was a challenge that I wanted to take on! “It All Begins with Love” is now one of my favourite songs on the album. I hope you enjoy my version!”

  1. Note To God (Diane Warren)

The message in this song is timely with all the tension and unrest going on in our world. We need to spread love not hate. The version I know best of this song was performed by Filipino singer, Charice. It is the third single release from this album, released on March 30, 2018. The music video for this song is as powerful as the lyrics. My interpretation, I call it simplified beauty. Niceforo is the voice and a solo dancer, Jamie Reisch, is the emotion. Almost dream-like in black & white. As the song builds toward the end, other dancers appear, as if to come together for the good. The video transitions to colour; to me, signifying an awakening or awareness. Kudos to Toronto Creatives for their video production and Kyle Kemp for his artistic direction to bring this song to life! The beautiful female voice heard in the song belongs to Jill Marie Cooper.

“”Note to God” was written by the incredible and inspiring Diane Warren about the desire and possibility for us to live in a better world. A world where we could find a greater love within us all, a love so deep that it could give us the hope and strength to transcend hate. This is the world I want to live in, this is the world we can build together. I am so honoured to share my version of this song with you. These words mean more to me than ever. My father would have been 80 years old today and he was one of my biggest fans and supporters. This one is for you dad!”

  1. Winner Takes It All (Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus)

The first single and music video released February 16, 2018. That was truly the first of several milestone days for Niceforo on this album’s journey! Like many, I am no stranger to the music of ABBA. They were THE band of the ‘70’s. Hit after hit on the radio, worldwide concert tours and movies. Move forward a few decades and Mamma Mia, The Musical hits live theatre stages and resurges the ABBA phenomena. In 2008, a movie version was adapted from the theatre show. Their music is timeless! So, why would Niceforo choose to cover a classic song and release it as his first single? Because he could! He made it his own. The power of his voice and that incredible orchestra accompanying him gave this an interpretation that sent goosebumps all over my body. That’s magic! 350,000 combined Facebook and YouTube views can’t be wrong!

“I grew up listening to ABBA (one my favourite bands/songwriters from that era), yet I had never considered singing one of their songs— I didn’t think I had the voice for it. This was up until I saw ‘Mamma Mia’ on TV… Meryl Streep’s version of “Winner Takes It All” blew my mind, and it was at this moment that the track became more to me than just a song or a cover… it was a story… a dramatic interpretation.”

  1. Falling At Your Feet (Alan Frew, Sam Reid, James Cregan, James Savigar)

With Sam Reid as one of the producers of this project, it only makes sense that there is at least one song written from members of Canada’s Glass Tiger. Alan Frew recorded this on a solo album and it’s good, but (sorry Alan) nowhere near the power or passion that comes through with Niceforo’s version.

“Sam Reid approached me with this song. When I was recording my EP at his studio, he said he had this song and he always felt that a voice like mine could do it justice. It made the cut on the EP and I wanted to carry it over to the Abbey album. We weren’t sure this was one we were going to record. We sent the version we had over to Steve Sidwell. He hadn’t had time to arrange it. We got it back the day we left for London and it just so happened that we had time and I’m so glad we did because I really like the arrangement. It’s a great song and one of the hardest for me to sing, since it is more on the Pop side. I struggled, but it was fun to do.”

  1. Solitaire (Philip Cody, Neil Sedaka)

I grew up listening to a lot of Neil Sedaka! Had the chance to see him in concert a few times. One of the best songwriters of our time and this song is classic! This is another one the gives me chills when Niceforo sings it.

“John Jones brought “Solitaire” to the table. I’ve always loved the song; the words really mean a lot to me. I felt like, through some people that I know in my life, they have lived this song. So, I really wanted to do it. We wanted to keep a simplicity with the orchestration and focus on the lyrics that tell the story. Steve (Sidwell) did a great job with the arrangement. It was exactly what I wanted.”

  1. Where Time Stands Still (Mary Chapin Carpenter)

This is not a song I was familiar with and went to YouTube to hear Mary Chapin Carpenter’s version of it. Incredible! Niceforo captures this song and stays true to her rendition. You may want some tissues for this one. My heart is in a puddle on the floor. FYI, this was the first of the 11 songs Niceforo recorded at Abbey Road.

“”Where Time Stands Still” is one of my favourites, but not necessarily a favourite for some who have pre-heard the album. For me, the first time I heard it, I loved it – the melody, the words, her inflections! This is another one John Jones suggested. In mock ups, from the first take, I loved singing it. For the arrangement, what Steve (Sidwell) did to the latter part of the song, with the drums and a Latin chant reflects that tension that relationships can have. He had just got out of a relationship and felt this brought a dynamic to the song. He wasn’t sure we were going to like, but we did and kept it.”

  1. Live Like Horses (Elton John, Bernard Taupin)

Another song that was carried over from the EP with a revised arrangement. Subtle differences that add a bit more punch to the music. This is the first song on Priceless that we get to hear Niceforo sing not only in English, but Italian too. Originally performed by Sir Elton John and Luciano Pavarotti as a duet, Niceforo takes on both parts and masters it! This is a special song for him. It pays tribute to two very special people in his life that are involved in the world of horses and have been his backbone of support on this album.

“I remember hearing this years ago on one of the Pavarotti & Friends CD’s. I loved it and never thought I would ever actually perform it. It was the first song I wanted to do for this album. It’s about freedom, breaking loose, not being afraid and being able to show your emotions. Sometime, we as humans, are timid and scared of being ourselves. This song helps remind me that I need to break out of my shell a little bit. Sometimes it is easy to forget.”

  1. Compass (Diane Warren)

When I first heard this song, there was a familiarity to it, but I couldn’t place it. On researching it, I found four recorded versions, one of which was from Rascal Flatts. That’s where I knew it from! Another great tune from Diane Warren. This woman really is an incredible songwriter. So heartfelt! This is up there as one of my favourites from the album.

“This is one of about six songs that Diane Warren gave to us for consideration. I remember this was one of my favourites off the top. I researched it and heard Racal Flatts cover of it. That was incredible. There was a version by a female singer, Sam Bailey, and hers was awesome! I loved the words – so simple yet, so beautiful. There was no doubt this was one we wanted to record.”

  1. When The Words Won’t Come (Diane Warren)

What a beautiful ballad of love! The third tune penned by Diane Warren on Priceless. This pairing of her songs and Niceforo’s performing is nothing short of magic. Keep them coming!  This song takes on a different sound; a bit of a Jazz flavour with the sexy sound of a solo sax playing throughout moments of the tune. Again, more beautiful moving lyrics that tug at the heartstrings. This is one that could give Bublé, Groban and Dusk a run for their money.

“We decided to do this one at the last minute. I loved it but, wasn’t sure it was the sound I wanted with other songs already recorded for the album sounding similar. It needed a different dynamic. Steve (Sidwell) came back with a jazzier arrangement and that was it! It sounded right. Interesting note, the saxophone was recorded in a hotel room washroom in Montreal.”

  1. A Star To Guide Me Home (Alan Frew, Michael Hanson) (Italian Lyrics By Joey Niceforo)

Ah, che bella canzone cantata in italiano! (Ah, what a beautiful song sung in Italian!) My heart melts. It is such a beautiful language. Why an English title? It was written in English, and Niceforo worked the lyrics into the Italian translation. If you want to know what the song would be called in Italian, I believe it translates to “Una Stella Per Guidarmi A Casa”. Forgive me if that is not quite right. I am a new Italian student. If you search YouTube, you will find Alan Frew’s version of this sung in English. Both are powerful!

“It was exciting to do the Italian lyrics for this. It is more than just a translation, it must fit the movement of the music. It doesn’t end up being a direct translation. Some words and phrases needed to be modified but, the message of the song remains the same.”

  1. Take It With Me (Kathleen Brennan, Thomas Alan Waits)

I’m a romantic and every one of the songs on this album connect with me in some way. What you hear with this song is the very first take Niceforo recorded. Others were done, but this is the one that was picked. You can’t top perfection!

“The story goes, Tom Waits wrote the song over a weekend with his wife, recorded it at home and that’s is what he ended up releasing. Everything about the tone of his voice and the words were so incredible. We did a mock up of it and the first time I sang it through I was almost in tears by the end. So much emotion! It’s a great song. There were a few things in it that were personal to Tom Waits. I changed a word – name (Beula to Sonja) to make it more personal for me.” A way to honour his Executive Producer for Priceless. “We just put horns on this. We didn’t use any strings. That, with the piano added a beautiful mood to the song.”

  1. Open Arms (Steve Perry, Jonathan Cain) (French Lyrics by Joey Niceforo)

This is the only song on Priceless that was not recorded at Abbey Road. I have listened to this so many times that it’s weird to hear Journey’s version now. Once again, Niceforo did lyric translation and adaptation, this time in French. The song is sung between the two languages and is breath-taking.

“I wanted to record this at Abbey Road but, we were told it would be nearly impossible to get the rights to it since I changed the lyrics. So, we ended up not doing it there. Then, we asked for the rights to put it on the EP and we got it, no problem! I’m a French-Canadian kid; my mother’s side of the family is French, and I wanted to put a French song on the album. So, my friend, Roy Tan, put together a nice arrangement and we put it on the album as a bonus track.”

If you made it through to the end of this review, congratulations! It must mean you’re as big a fan of Joey Niceforo as I am. If you didn’t pre-order Priceless, you can order it now on Apple Music. Congratulations to everyone involved in the making of Priceless and those on Joey Niceforo’s team who continue to support him on this project.

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