Jon Nicholson is a member of the Muzik Mafia, the loose affiliation of studio pros, professional songwriters, and singers that took Nashville by storm a few years into the 2000s. Country superstars Big & Rich are the most prominent members of the Muzik Mafia, and Nicholson shares some of their goofy humor on his 2005 debut, A Lil Sump'm Sump'm, but the record proves that he's not a country singer: he's a loose-limbed, laid-back, bluesy blue-eyed soul singer, the kind of musician that's not all that common on major labels this decade. Nicholson occasionally recalls singers as diverse as Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and John Hiatt, but he's not nearly as earthy or idiosyncratic as any of those three at their peak. He tends to be a little smoother overall, but he not only has a knowing ironic sense of humor, but it's clear that he's a guy who's been raised on '80s college rock and '90s alt-rock -- he doesn't just name-drop the Replacements, but his "Rock & Roll" is a flat-out homage to Pleased to Meet Me, right down to the squawking baritone sax that's lifted from "I Don't Know." That and the funny "Stereo," where he laments a stolen hi-fi, constitute Nicholson's quirky alt-rock side, but for the most part he favors mellow soulful grooves that seem like outgrowths of such Horde Festival jam bands as the Black Crowes and G. Love & Special Sauce. While there are times that he tries a little too hard as a vocalist -- at the beginning of the record his voice sounds hopelessly affected -- after a little while he settles into a groove and A Lil Sump'm Sump'm all of a sudden seems very likeable, a nicely funky, down-home collection of classicist Southern swamp pop with a pretty good sense of humor. That second half of the record is enough fun that the getting-Grandma-high jokes of the closing song doesn't quite spoil the party, even if it does reveal that there's a little bit too much frat-boy smirkiness here for A Lil Sump'm Sump'm to be an all-inclusive, all-ages shindig. Still, this is a promising debut, and suggests that Nicholson could make a really fun, interesting record next time out.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1