Nico Padden

REVIEW: Nico Padden “Pirate Queen”


There are things you can’t truly know unless you’ve lived through them. Sexual harrassment, childhood trauma, mass shootings – we read about them, but unless you’ve been there (and I haven’t), you can’t truly bridge the gap between cognizance and experience. This is where art comes in. A portrayal of traumatic events can tap into emotions and bring about empathy that might not otherwise be obtainable. On her new album, Pirate Queen, Nico Padden brings events like these to life. The musical renderings of these emotional scars – some from her own experiences, others coming from people in her life – help us understand those traumatic moments a little better, as well as offering strength and resilience to those who have been there.

Padden’s style has been described as a “one-woman folk-rock riot,” and “Burning Rome to the Ground ” fits that take-no-prisoners ethos. Whether describing leaving an abusive relationship (“She was done playing mouse”), outing beyond creepy colleagues or decrying gun violence (“The pain that only a mother/Could ever know or sustain”), the singer, through her characters, takes on each obstacle loudly and proudly. Later in the album, “27 Heartbeats” zeroes in on school shootings with subtle accompaniment (primarily acoustic guitar and cello) and chilling detail. Padden retells the story of a Sandy Hook teacher who saved her students – “The quiet game/A prize for the winner/They know the drill, drill, drill” – and also asked why nothing – NOTHING – changed after that day in December of 2012 – “Do they know in their 27 little hearts/That we don’t regard their human value?”

Much of the strength that Padden exhibits comes from family and friends. The title track is a tribute to her musical supporters, as well as a promise to represent them – “I will hold your pain in my mouth/And I will speak until the words can come out/Of you.” “Four Hands on the Helm” is a seaworthy shout-out to the partnership that she and her husband have built, which has allowed them both to overcome major obstacles. “Mother and Father” is a banjo-led appreciation of the contrasts between her parents and how they’ve shaped her – “Everything I am I stole from them” (appropriately, the prettiest vocal harmonies on the record are found on this track). And “The Death of the Princess” is a fond goodbye to Padden’s grandfather, complete with the mixed-up feelings that attend the death of a relative from whom much has been learned – “My grief is so vigorous/My direction’s ambiguous.” Songwriters can give us a perspective on feelings we’ve not known personally, but the best ones can also take a more universal emotion, like loss, and phrase it in a way that’s relatable to us all.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Bar on 63rd” – It starts off feeling like a night out but ends up back home with a songwriter who’s less than fulfilled by shelving her best work in favor of easy crowd pleasers – “My pocket full of song requests that I turned into twenties/I’ll pay some bills tomorrow and keep waiting for a spark.” We’ve all been there, no matter the job title.

Pirate Queen was recorded and mixed by Kevin Kelly and mastered by Mike Kalajian. All songs were written by Padden. Additional musicians on the album include Kelly (bass, organ), Greg Padden (piano), Jon Mele (drums), Rob Flax (violin, mandolin), Max Ross (electric guitar), Chris Howard (hand percussion), Nick Russo (banjo, resonator guitar), James Acampora (cello), Olivia Brownlee (banjo), and Rorie Kelly, Katelyn Richards, Laurie Anne Creus, Betina Hershey, Katie Tenenbaum, Christine Sweeney, Lauren Duffy and Margaret Krebs (harmony vocals).

Order Pirate Queen (out Jan. 28) here:

Check out show dates here:

Enjoy new Americana music on our playlist, here: New Americana Music playlist by Americana Highways


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