Nikki Lerner
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Nikki Lerner

Baltimore, Maryland, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | SELF

Baltimore, Maryland, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2014
Band R&B Jazz

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"Sort Out Your Emotions With Nikki Lerner Therapy"

With her latest record, recording artist and worship leader Nikki Lerner is aiming to get some things off her chest.

Not in the I’m-angry-and-I-just-need-to-vent sense, but in the these-are-the-things-I-think-about-all-the-time-but-now-I’m-actually-going-to-say-them-out-loud sense … hence the album’s title, The Things We Never Say.

And my sense, after both listening to the record and talking to her directly (FULL DISCLOSURE: she and I have been friends for years through our connection with the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network) is that by being so frank and forthcoming, she wants to give others permission to do the same.

Sometimes when a record’s honesty is its calling card, the potency of sentiment masks a lack of interesting musicality. Other records go to the other extreme, hanging dizzying orchestrations and audacious arrangements on a blank shell of uninteresting clichés. In both cases, it seems to be the artist trying to maximize his or her strengths by masking corresponding weaknesses. It’s like, “if you don’t have anything interesting to say, then say something boring in a cool way.” Or, “if you can’t make cool music, at least say something interesting.”

On the contrary, The Things We Never Say is intriguing both in what it says as well as how it says it. Crisp rhythms, dynamic soundscapes and angular chord progressions percolate in unexpected support of Lerner’s soaring harmonies and inflections that float over the top and leave an impression long after the music no longer lingers. Imagine if Sade ever collaborated with Snarky Puppy… that’s what this record is like. Credit go not only to Lerner herself, but to her impressive band (Stephen Waddy on keys, David Phillips on bass, and husband David Lerner on drums).

People who know Nikki from her work as a worship leader may be surprised to find that this album, though it is informed by a Christian worldview, is not explicitly Christian in focus. It is not worship music. On the contrary, its themes are timeless and accessible for anyone who has ever been alive long enough to develop significant relationships and had to navigate the baggage that tends to accompany them. The songs on The Things We Never Say are full of honest emotion, but also ambiguity, regret, wonder, and tentative questioning… they feel, forgive the buzzword, authentic. Lerner and her band do their best to craft aural experiences that echo the natural rhythms we all go through as we try to find our places in and amongst each other.

My favorites so far are her lead single, “Can We Start Over” and the album’s concluding ode, “Let Me Say Goodbye.” Both of them do a great job of living up to the theme, because they both echo sentiments rarely heard in R&B or pop music. The former lumbers along with a sense of languid, pensive funk, and lyrically invites the listener to take stock of the faults that might be unwittingly polluting their relationships, and the latter provides, in guitar ballad form, a merciful admission that sometimes the most familiar relationships still need to end for the best of all parties involved. If that sounds heavy, well… it is. But it’s also authentic and potent, and designed to appeal to listeners who want more depth of emotion and maturity in their music.

If there’s a weakness in this record, it’s that it doesn’t seem to have a lot of hooks. There are no hashtaggable catchphrases, no earworm-y phrases. But — speaking of things I never say — sometimes hooks are overrated. I mean, don’t get me wrong, nice hooks are great, but they don’t usually help rekindle a marriage, or help reconcile a friendship, or walk you through a break-up in a responsible way. Sometimes you just need to get real and say what needs to be said. With this record, Nikki Lerner and company are here to help you do just that.

So if you’re too broke for therapy, just find a good pair of headphones and a comfy couch and spend some time listening to The Things We Never Say. You might just end up in a better space. - Jelani Greenidge


"A Review of Things We Never We Never Say"

This post gives me a chance to comment on an intersection of faith and music, a love of mine I’ve had to put away in the final stages of my PhD writing.

The incredible Nikki Lerner has brought out her third album ‘Things we Never Say’ and I’ve been privileged enough to get my hands on a pre-release copy. It launches on Feb 19th 2016, after which you can get it here!

You would be forgiven for thinking Nikki’s music is the release of just another uh-mazing, silky, drop-dead-gorgeous vocal Diva. Which I hope other reviews highlight, because her singing brings together the sweet tones of jazz greats (like Natalie Cole, Diana Krall, Eva Cassidy) with dark ones reminiscent of soul singers (such as Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston, Lalah Hathaway).

I’d here like to pin my hopes to the wall, and believe we’re looking at the the actualization of a revolution in worship music. Not gospel. a new genre of worship music. Because Nikki is the worship pastor of Bridgeway Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

You see, while Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) is constructed on the market-proven formulas we’ve grown to love (or accept) on Christian radio, this is something.else.entirely. Sonically, it’s reminiscent of Israel Houghton & the new breed’s release in 2010 : a sophisticated musical fusion that moves from African-American genres back and forth into more Hipster-friendly ones. You could call this musical acts of cross-cultural generosity. But lyrically, it is closer to Michael and Lisa Gungor’s vision outworked in their CD I Am Mountain. And thus, it shares a lot in common with the projects of Mute Math, and of Sufijan Stevens: those who want worship to include more than the small vocabulary we can sing together in our congregational choruses. Which I guess is why its title fits it so well.

That Nikki has done this is significant. She is one of the founders of the Multicultural Worship Leaders Network, a network of over eight hundred worship pastors in various cities forging local musical dialogue across various lines. And church for her is not a gig on the weekend – she’s a genuine Christian in word, heart and deed. So my hope and prayer is that this may hail the return of Christian musicians into their regular music industries, both at a local city level and I guess hopefully eventually, a global one.

Because as a model of where ordinary worship pastors and leaders are going, it provides important breakthroughs. This is not going to be an album you play once only. Let me explain:

It’s a big thing to release a CD, particularly when your performance and identity is located primarily in the church. There are a lot of excellent big congregational music publishing houses competing for the tiny four-song-list of an ordinary church. So, unless you’re pitching to them or happy to die wanting, worship choruses are kind off the table, and any music you make is really because you want to perform it live on your own, and to distribute it among those you love, as your message.

But the Christian church has moved further and further away from the radio music that speaks of love, of sex – the words of classic poetry, or of mystery and questions. As in, the music that many ordinary people want to listen to.

Well – this is exactly that. Music you’ll want to listen to. Musically, Nikki is influenced by a range of genres, including R&B, jazz, soul. In others, she’s tapping into the alternative scene in Brooklyn (or Baltimore, I guess). It’s a feast of sounds. Selah begins as a jazz guitar ballad, but as it gains tempo it twists in steel drum and Afro-Caribbean sounds. This leads into the piano intro of Can We Start Over… Notable is the experimental electronic soundscape of Never Gets Old, perfectly matched with its layered vocals. The band nailed the rhythmic crescendos that underpin her vocals. I can only describe this as a shifting sonic palette.

Now for the faith content, which I think is totally worth highlighting, because at first look, you could gloss over it entirely. Track #1 Selah sings “I can barely say your name”, reminiscent of the ancient Jewish awe and respect for YHWH. A sultry Sarah McLaughlin-esque verse in I Rise sets its scene inside a bed, complete with “wine coloured sheets”. This moves into a classic gospel chorus, into a rock guitar solo, and back into a gospel choir. Which seems somehow to epitomize faith lived out within community, doesn’t it? Faith, prayer, sex, honesty, fear and love mixed together into a musical collage that is a snapshot of a real waking up as a Christian in the urban space.

The song Let us Talk Through the Night speaks of love lost and honest conversations, “It is you who has loved me back to life”. Much of the content of this CD evokes something more to a marriage union than simply bodily intimacy. In Choosing to Fall it speaks of loss and grief, falling out of love and choosing to fall back again. The song Tell Me evokes questions of faith posed from a younger woman to an older one. Love Pursues has such a catchy chorus that Hillsong should sing it ;).

And healing flows
Pressing through the pain
It’s peace I know
Reaching for a love I can’t refuse
Because love pursues

The honest musings in One of These Days are directly God-ward discussions about the responsibilities of having talent. Ah, yes – the pain and joy of being creative.

So to be honest, if these are Things We Never Say, then we’re better off for saying them. Or at least, turning them up REALLY LOUD on the stereo and letting Nikki say them for us. - Tanya Riches


"Nikki Lerner - Longings (2014)"

Nikki Lerner’s Longings isn’t the sad embrace its title seems to indicate. Instead, it’s a journey of understanding, an attempt to make sense of this life’s unknowable complexities — with all of the small triumphs, the sudden pitfalls and the ardent moments associated with such things.

She gets there courtesy of a striking way with a lyric, but also an appropriately layered musical palette: The introductory “Life is Good,” for instance, moves from an interwoven vocal intro toward a heart-filling acapella celebration of faith, as Lerner simply opens her heart to a lyric from Josh Davis and David Lerner. As a statement of purpose, it not only points toward an album dotted with uplifting themes, it illustrates — as she multi-tracks her own voice across a broad spectrum — the staggering range of her incredible instrument.

And Lerner, an indie singer-songwriter based in Baltimore, is just getting started.

She returns with a dusky apology on “Plea,” which finds Lerner joined for the first time by a full band, including Ronald Green III on keyboards, David Lerner on drums, Kevin MacIntire on bass and the angular Zach Brock (who has worked with Stanley Clarke) on violin. The sense of fragility is devastating, as quiet and broken sounding as “Life is Good” had been full of joy and passion. “Curious,” another Nikki Lerner original, blends in a more modern feel, as programming courtesy of Kevin 131 and a beat from David Lerner propel a talented amalgam that includes guitarist Matthew D’Accurzio, the dexterous bassist Henry “Pep” Rose and Green. As Nikki Lerner explores the lyric, they create an swirling, atmospheric landscape that perfectly mirrors her painful doubt.

“Seasons” sees the return of Brock, along with guest bassist Michael League (who, like the violinist, has worked with Snarky Puppy), even as Lerner – writing again with Josh Davis – returns to the ageless wisdom of the Psalms in an effort to grasp the patterns and the peace to be found within this world’s cycles. Lerner’s title track then works a yang to that yin, leaving aside these larger ideas about our place in the universe for the trembling emotions associated with a very personal passion. “All of Me,” a Davis original featuring this series of ruminative figures from keyboardist Stephen Waddy, digs deeper into the flip side of that emotion. As portrayed within the twilit melancholy of Lerner’s lowest range, this is love given in full, but not necessarily returned.


The loping groove of “Love Again” arrives next, and just in time. Lerner’s finely tuned sense of proportion and pacing serves her well. After the darker mysteries of this album’s most recent tunes, “Love Again” bursts forward like a sun streak through purpled clouds, even if lingering doubts about handing over a heart remain. “Welcome to the New,” co-written by Lerner with Davis and D’Accurzio, makes an initial reference to the unaccompanied chorus of the opening moments of Longings, but Lerner’s multi-tracked vocal brilliance is instead coupled with a boisterous cadence — courtesy of Lerner and Kevin 131 — that gives the song a sense of martial urgency. At last, she races back toward a lover’s waiting arms for “I Get to Love You,” a song that feels like pulling into the driveway after a long day of dealing with the challenges that “Welcome to the New” just celebrated.

In this way, Lerner’s album offers both understanding, and encouragement, to those who are wearied not just by the search for love, but also by the often far more important search for peace. “I Get to Love You” ends on an anthem’s note, setting the stage for Lerner’s finale — the perfectly attenuated, devastatingly beautiful “Home.” Here again, she lowers her voice to a confidential whisper, before eventually moving into a diaphanous call. You can almost hear the door closing behind Lerner, and the sense of belonging (“where tears will fall no more, where life will be restored again, where voices sing as one”) finally billowing up all around. - Nick Deriso - Something Else!


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Bio

Nikki Lerner is a classically-trained alternative/pop/soul singer-songwriter based out of Baltimore, MD. Her soaring melodies and dense vocal harmonies are sure to stay with you long after you've heard her songs. Her eclectic musical style (blending elements of jazz, pop, r&b, and even drum & bass) is something that must be heard to be believed.

With her latest release, Human Too (available July 10th, 2020), Nikki pushes her musical boundaries farther than she ever has on previous albums. Human Too contains six new studio tracks and five live versions of songs from her previous albums. The studio cuts feature guitarist Mark Lettieri (Snarky Puppy) on Strength, Colors, and Falling, as well as Mike "Maz" Maher (Snarky Puppy) on trumpet for the title track. The live recordings feature jazz-violinist Zach Brock (Snarky Puppy), and Mark Lettieri is featured again on the final live track, Tell Me.

Nikki and her band have played at a variety of locations, from local coffeehouses to 1,000 seat auditoriums to the Nowhere Else Festival, a boutique music and arts festival that takes place annually outside of Cincinnati, OH.

In addition to her musical endeavors, Nikki has also been invited all over the country to speak on issues of racial reconciliation, vocal coaching, and team-building.

Band Members