Album Review – Tami Neilson’s “CHICKABOOM!”

If word comes down that Tami Neilson is making her way to your town, pitch the tent, prop up the podium, assemble the pews, pass out handbills and burn up the telephones lines to put everyone on alert that the new queen of rockabilly herself is coming to testify and save souls with her earth-shattering shouts and dulcet coos that certify to anyone who has ever born witness to her in the flesh that she has no peer on this planet or any other when it comes to musical performance.

This is not a drill. No payola has been exchanged for the sharing of these opinions. Tami Neilson is one of the greatest performers breathing at the moment, and make no mistake, a consensus prevails upon this point when surrounded by people who’ve actually been lucky enough to behold her power in the flesh.

This Canadian-born performer who got her start in a family band opening for the likes of Tanya Tucker and Johnny Cash—and later moved to New Zealand to pursue a love interest—has been slowly bubbling under the surface of country, roots, and Americana for some years now, struggling to find the traction that is equal to her talent due to her limited name recognition and touring capability north of the equator.

But this secret has proven to be harder and harder to keep over time, and though there still remains an incredible gulf between the people who know of Tami Neilson and those who should, Tami is starting to enjoy some of the buzz she’s deserved for some years now. It’s within this swelling of interest that she releases her new album called CHICKABOOM!—a spirited and energetic mix of rockabilly, old school R&B soul, and classic country that has something for everyone with good taste, while presenting numerous new launching pads for Neilson’s voice to blow back the hair of spellbound crowds for years to come.

Very much forged from the dual life Tami Neilson leads as both a dutiful and very busy housewife and mother, and a big bopping rockabilly goddess with big hair and a bigger voice, both these occupations are given a spotlight in these 10 tracks. “Queenie, Queenie” finds Neilson juggling all her daily tasks, having to work harder than most, because as he says, “Mama got to hustle, do another show, ’cause they won’t play a lady-o on country radio.”

Now that Neilson’s musical pursuits have gone from a fledgling side hustle to a full blown cross continent career—which she talks about ironically in the Nashville-tanning “Ten Tonne Truck”—her songs reflect these additional challenges, though everything is presented in a fun and playful manner. For those searching for the country heart of her sound, which recently landed her 2015 record Dynamite! on Saving Country Music’s Greatest Albums of the Decade list, check out the Patsy Cline-inspired “Any Fool With a Heart” or the more upbeat “Tell Me That You Love Me.” For those of Gospel patrons, Tami pays tribute to arguably the greatest singer from the Staple stable in “Sister Mavis.”

The challenge with an artist who is so incredible live like Tami Nelson is how to capture that magic in the often sterile environment of the studio. Producer and fellow standout New Zealand performer Delaney Davidson, along with Neilson’s brother and guitar player Jay Neilson do a great job bringing Tami’s vision to life. But the truth is no matter the effort, any recording will feel like the home version of the real thing. Watching Tami perform her new song “You Were Mine” live is like a religious experience, but you only get glimmers of that with the recorded version. Similar to listening to other incredible live performers, whether it’s someone such as Billy Strings, or classic performers with big voices like Elvis or Frank Sinatra, with Neilson’s voice being what it is, you almost have to witness it yourself to believe what you’re hearing.

Nonetheless, CHICKABOOM! makes quick work and separates itself from the peloton of mild “Americana” with it’s energy and infectiousness, along with the messages that working moms and the men that love them can most certainly relate to. Tami Neilson has been here for a long time, but hopefully CHICKABOOM! is the moment she arrives.


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