Renowned Nashville producer Robyn Robin’s latest project places a spotlight on the talents of thirty year old Michigan born Nick Dakota. His debut album Vision is a collection that doesn’t just rely on a bunch of standard popular music tricks to win over audiences, but instead mingles a clear commercial approach with a resolute effort to give performances as reflective as possible of the audience’s experiences. This is, above all else, an accessible album. Dakota gets as much of himself into these songs as he can and shows abundant technique while remaining grounded and focused on serving the song. There’s no self-indulgence on this release. Robyn Robins and the great collaborators Dakota works alongside give these songs a stylish treatment, but there’s no showing off and everything is eminently relatable.
There’s a lot of perfect singles on this album. The opener, “We’ll Always Have Paris (Texas)”, is one of these tracks thanks to the gently rousing quality of the song, Dakota’s relaxed and fun vocal, and on point drumming helps accentuate the song’s urgency. His first big love song on the album, “How Much I Love You”, relies on some standard turns for the subject matter, but Dakota does a lot with this lesser singers couldn’t accomplish thanks to the unvarnished romanticism of his vocal. He sings it straight and with seeming sincerity on every line. One of the ready for prime time gems on Vision is the song “How Cool Is That?” relies on a great characterization of the song’s subject that alternates between adoration and wit. Dakota delivers the lyrics with every bit of the genuine affection the song needs from its singer to succeed. He offers up another dramatic ballad with the slowly developing “One Last Request”. The song could be offered up, in some respects, as a perfect encapsulation of Dakota’s songwriting goals and signature sound. The delicate weaving of acoustic and electric instruments during the verses crescendos with the chorus where a light Southern rock aesthetic takes over and hits listeners hard.
“The Deep End” has an edgy quality befitting its title only a few other songs on the album so strongly share. It isn’t so sharply removed from the style of the other songs that it stands out as an oddity in the track list, but it shows Dakota’s ability to flawlessly shift gears just enough to provide some important variation. “Used” releases a lot of energy for a song about heartbreak, but a close listen to the chorus reveals why. Dakota really makes the frustration of his narrator quite real without ever hamming it up. His penchant for a moving ballad resurfaces on the song “Past You and Me” and his vocals are the unquestioned highlight. It’s one of the best lyrics on the album, so he has a lot to work with, but it would all fall a little flatter if he didn’t have such superb accompaniment. “Sledge Hammer” points the way to Dakota’s more audacious side. It’s like a quasi-mix of modernized bluegrass and rock poses. The rhythm section really pops and his inspired singer makes the song an ideal ending for Vision. There are probably too many mid tempo tracks on this album, but that’s all in the ear of the beholder and even the potential excess is still quality. By any measure, however, Vision is a memorable debut for Nick Dakota.