Nicole performs as the opening act for JAY LENO!

Aug 23, 2013

Nicole's REINVENTED named TOP TEN in Chicagoland

Dec 30, 2011

Home / Entertainment / Music / Music
2011's Top 10 regional albums

By Tom Lounges Times Correspondent | Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2011 7:00 pm |

As the local music columnist for the Times, a lot of regionally produced music visits my stereo each year, some bad, some good, some exceptional. What follows is my personal Top 10 of Chicagoland releases for 2011. (The criteria for inclusion: the artist resides in the Chicagoland region; the CD was released between last quarter of 2010 and December 25 of 2011; the CD is commercially available to the public, professionally pressed and packaged, and contains a minimum of either 6 songs or 30 minutes of music.)
1) JIM PETERIK'S LIFEFORCE/produced by Jim Peterik: "Forces at Play" (World Stage International Records)
Peterik is best known for his role as a co-founder and primary creative force in such national groups as Ides of March and Survivor and this second Lifeforce CD finds the pop/rocker equally adept and comfortable making jazz music. "Forces At Play" is an all-star collective including such regional vocal talents as Lisa McClowry, Marzette Griffith and Sijay, along with celebrity friends like singer Alex Ligertwood (ex-Santana) and guitarist Jeff Carlisi (.38 Special). Though a great overall set, highlights are largely tunes featuring McClowry, whose rich voice perfectly fits Peterik's songs. More: WWW.JIMPETERIK.COM
2) S. JOEL NORMAN/produced by S. Joel Norman and Marc Nelson: "Take It In Stride" (Independent)
The songs and the production are as much the "star" on this 6-song set as Norman and the exceptional group of recording guests featured here. The style of music ranges from Joe Cocker-ish to adult pop to funk/R&B. Two of the songs - "Bump in the Road" and "Smooth, Smooth" were recorded for the PBS music program "Live from the Alley." The song that stays in one's head, though, is "Such a Nice Day," a sing-along summer song perfect for a morning cruise to the beach with the top down. More: WWW.SJOELNORMAN.COM
3) THE BAD EXAMPLES/produced by Ralph Covert and Steve Gerlach: "Smash Record" (Waterdog Records)
After years at the helm of the children's entertainment project, Ralph's World, "Smash Record" is singer/songwriter Ralph Covert's first new studio album in over 15 years with his seminal Chicago power-pop band, The Bad Examples. From "Big E Chord," which opens the 12-song CD, these hook-filled songs prove Covert and his old mates can still rock the house like nobody's business. This album seethes and is as good or better than anything in their catalog. Old school pop with a real bite! More: WWW.WATERDOGMUSIC.COM
4) MIMI BETINIS/produced by Stan Skora: "All That Glitters" (Independent)
If you like Beatlesque music, Betinis warrants attention. "All That Glitters" is the comeback solo CD from the founding member of Chicago's iconic '70s power-pop group, Pezband. Well-written, well-crafted, and nicely produced, "All That Glitters" is "stick to the ribs" pop music. There are still plenty of hooks and twangy guitar, only tempered with cello and violin, to become a more adult take on the classic sound Betinis pioneered with Pezband. More: WWW.MIMIBETINIS.COM
5) STEEPWATER BAND/produced by Colin Sipos and Steepwater Band: "Clava" (Diamond Day Records)
Northwest Indiana's Steepwater trio - guitarist Jeff Massey, bassist Tod Williams and drummer Joe Winters - get stronger with each successive album. Their organic sound is rooted in "old school" and comes from a deep creative well dug by the likes of Elmore James and Muddy Waters. But while they revere the blues, these lads also know how to rock and bring the best of both worlds to their releases. Their newest - "Clava" - is available on limited edition 180-gram vinyl or on CD. More: WWW.STEEPWATER.COM
6) CHESTER BROWN/produced by Brent Bernhardt and Chester Brown: "Chester Brown" (Independent)
This Chesterton quintet blends rock, jazzy fills and light funk that encompasses a broad sound that changes from song to song - going from country-soul, to trippy pop, to blues-rooted rock romps, and back again. This 13-song collection is a little uneven, but there is much to enjoy. More: WWW.CHESTERBROWN.ORG
7) THE PONDHAWKS/produced by Mario Novelli and Jorie Gracen: "...Have Landed" (Riverpool Records)
The PondHawks have embraced the Liverpool pop sound and have created a tasty slab of original songs that while fresh, have a familiar feel. Infectious hooks, playful lyrics and spirited playing, nice male/female vocal harmonies, coupled with bright production and a vibrant approach, make "...Have Landed" an album sure to take up residence in your stereo. More: WWW.PONDHAWKS.COM
8) NICOLE GARZA/produced by Rick Barnes and Nicole Garza: "Reinvented" (Independent)
"Reinvented" is an appropriate title for this sophomore set from Garza. The promise shown on her debut CD, "Versatility," six years ago comes to fruition here. Garza's arrangements shine and her songwriting is sassy - from the "attitude heavy" R&B opener "Let Me Breathe," to the grooving "Sexy, Sensual, Salacious" dance cut, to the reflective slow-jam love tune "Find the Old Me." More: WWW.NICOLEGARZA.COM
9) ROBERT ROLFE FEDDERSEN/produced by Robert Rolfe Feddersen: "Get a Rope" (Independent)
Singer/songwriter Robert Rolfe Feddersen returns to my Top 10 for the second consecutive year. His stark and minimalist songs hit with a one-two punch to the heart and soul. The title track opens the 10-song CD with a continuation of the despair heard in the lyrics of Feddersen's previous disc, "Milkman," with the glimmers of hope and optimism giving way to thoughts of a noose to the neck. This darkly written set stirs the heart and is sadly suited to these tough times. More: WWW.ROBERTROLFEFEDDERSEN.COM
10) THE CHICAGO KINGSNAKES/produced by James P. Anderson with John Huber: "Blue Mosaic" (MusicKing Records)
This latest release by perennial Chicagoland blues quartet, The Chicago Kingsnakes, may not be exceptional from start to end, but it is a solid set of songs played from the heart. The best blues are never too slick and polished, which is the way the group gives it to us here. More: WWW.CHICAGOKINGSNAKES.COM
Honorable Mentions:
HOOSIER HIGHWAY BAND/produced by Hoosier Highway: "Drivin" (Independent). WWW.HHCOUNTRY.COM.
M&R RUSH/produced by Jeff Luif and John McFarland: "Alpha" (Eminar Music). WWW.MANDRRUSH.COM
Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted in Music on Thursday, December 29, 2011 7:00 pm

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Nicole signs with LOUD Entertainment

Dec 16, 2011

Nicole signs on with LOUD Entertainment to aid her in booking her original music project, the OH GEEZ!!!

Region singer Nicole Garza gets 'Reinvented'

Sep 30, 2011

LOCAL SCENE: Region singer Nicole Garza gets 'Reinvented'
By Tom Lounges Times Correspondent | Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nicole Garza is on a mission -- a mission to succeed as a singer and entertainer.
"There was never any doubt in my mind I would grow up to be a professional singer one day," said the Northwest Indiana native while preparing to release her second CD of original songs. "I once told my high school choir director, Mr. Michael Lewis, that I would sing the rest of my life, even if it means living in a cardboard box, because singing is what makes me happy."
Fortunately, Garza's accommodations have not suffered while in pursuit of her dream because she maintains a dual career.
"I'm currently lead singer for the groups Maggie Speaks and Spoken Four out of Chicago, both cover bands are part of Maggie Speaks Incorporated and we play approximately 200 shows a year," Garza said. "It's tons of fun and it's my bread and butter, but ultimately I'd like to make a living singing my own material."
She gets a little closer to that goal this weekend with the much anticipated release of her sophomore album, a 7-song original collection she calls "Reinvented."
To celebrate the completion of the project -- recorded at Rax Trax Studio in Lakeview, Ill., and co-produced by Garza and studio owner Rick Barnes -- Garza will perform the album on Sunday for an all-ages audience at Northwoods, 8101 Indianapolis Blvd., in St. John.
Things start at 6 p.m. with an opening set by singer/songwriter Jessica Lauren Jones, followed Garza, and then a closing set from The Robby Celestin Band.
"Reinvented" is an appropriate name for this collection of Garza-penned tunes, as it is far removed from Garza's debut CD ("Versatility") of six years ago, when she was just out of her teens and performing as simply Nicki G.
But even then, Garza showed enough promise that "Versatility" landed on my annual "Top 10 Regional Albums of 2005" list published in The Times.
"Back then, being Nicki G worked for me, as my biggest goal was to create a project that was commercial and radio-ready when hip-hop was the big thing," she said. "But the music on 'Reinvented' is in my opinion more sophisticated and resembles who I am today. I'm really proud of this project, these songs, and all the musicians who played on it."

With The Bangles back in action, here's some local women in music

Sep 30, 2011

With The Bangles back in action, here's some local women in music
By Tom Lounges Times Correspondent | Thursday, September 29, 2011

Schererville's Nicole Garza is leader of The Oh Geez, a nine-piece ensemble that performs and backs her up in the studio. "I am the sole writer in the group," said Garza. "I will bring them a piano arrangement and the band brings their own influences and arrangements to the table."
Garza's latest album of original songs, "Reinvented," came out in August and she co-produced it with Rick Barnes from Rax Trax Recording.
With deep roots in R&B, but still able to rock out, Garza describes her music as "commerical but eclectic." She adds, "I like to say it's soulful, funky, rock/R&B with world influences. It's very original." Her vocal influences include Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Kahn, Bette Midler and Shania Twain.
Garza has a special place in her heart for The Bangles too. "When my mother was in the hospital with leukemia, I was 6 years old and would sing The Bangles' 'Eternal Flame' to her," she said. "To this day, she can barely listen to the song all the way through. It's such an inspirational and beautiful song, so The Bangles had a huge impact on me and my family with that song."
Among Garza's accomplishments during her nearly eight-year career as a professional performer has been to sing the national anthem for most of the major Chicago sports teams; being selected to sing as one of Chicago's Top 10 female vocalists; and being invited on stage to sing with Huey Lewis & The News.
Garza also moonlights away from her original music project as the lead singer/frontwoman of the Chicago party rock group Maggie Speaks, which tours across the country.
"You need to have the three d's," she advised to young ladies wanting to pursue a musical career. "Those are diligence, determination and dignity. Attack your career with those three things and there is no failing."

Nicole Headlines Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

May 2, 2009

Garza headlines Cinco de Mayo fiesta at Jalapenos'

Times Correspondent | Saturday, May 02, 2009 | (No comments posted.)
The first time this columnist heard of Nicole Garza was when local sound engineer Joe Rega phoned about an amazing new singer. A week later, a similar phone call came from Jim Rubino of Rubino's Music.

Back then, Garza was billed as "Nicki G," which she soon dropped in favor of her full name. That was fortunate. Though she can do the urban sound wonderfully, Garza has much to offer. A hip-hop moniker might have pigeonholed her.

Though rich with soul and at home with R&B, Garza's powerful voice is versatile enough to sing the gamut of popular music. She is a little bit Kelly Clarkson, Rhianna and Pink rolled into one. She began singing at age 4, never stopped, and eventually earned a scholarship to Columbia College.

Years later, the Schererville 20something has justified everyone's early excitement. She has backed major stars like Faith Hill and Jose Feliciano; performed live at Horseshoe Casino with Huey Lewis, and entertained the likes of Janet Jackson and LL Cool J at private parties.

She also has performed at venues such as the Auditorium Theatre, UIC Pavilion and Taste Of Chicago. Her 2005 debut album, "Versatility," landed on this columnist's "Regional Top 10" list that year.

Backing Garza these days -- and tonight at Jalapenos' -- is her group, The Oh Geez.

"Normally, we are an eight-piece band, but for our stripped-down shows we scale back to a four-piece," said Garza. "It's me, Anthony Bracco on guitar, Garrett McGinn on bass, and Chris Paquette on percussion. But at Jalapenos' Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, we will instead be featuring Jesse Hernandez of TimePeace on percussion."

For tonight's performance Garza will tap into her Mexican-American heritage, spicing up her group's repertoire with Latin music.

"I've had my guys learn some new material specifically for this show and some of it will be sang by Jesse," she continued. "Some of these tunes include Santana and Selena covers."

Email Tom Lounges at:

WHO: NICOLE GARZA & THE OH GEEZ at 9:30 p.m. tonight
WHERE: Jalapenos', 200 U.S. 41, Schererville
COST: $5, free for diners, 21 and over show.
FYI: (219) 864-8862

Nicole sings for Wyclef Jean & Fergie!

Jan 20, 2009


Nicole flies out this Friday Jan. 23rd to meet Wyclef Jean and Fergie. She will record record a song written and produced by Wyclef Jean, have her vocal performance produced by Fergie, and receive 12 month management contract with Maximum Artist Management Ltd, with the chance for a recording contract with a major label. Keep logged on to for more details!!!!

Nicole Garza In The TIMES 1.12.08

Jan 12, 2008

Tom Lounges writes:
Northwest Indiana's soulful diva Nicole Garza reports that she has completed writing for her sophomore CD, "Nicole Garza: Nicki G Reinvented," and now is preparing for the recording process. Keep up with the CD's progress at: In the meantime, Garza has been singing with The Manhattan Project, a soul band from Chicago, and was a recent guest vocalist with The Chicago Jazz Ensemble.

Garza also is a backing singer on the new CD, "Meant For Thrills," by the regional group Waterstreet (

Nicole Wins Song of the Month through Broadjam!!

Apr 21, 2007

Nicole entered into the Broadjam song of the month of March contest, and TOOK IT ALL with her killer Reggae/Pop song "Wish I Knew"!!!! She received $250 cash, Decrete Drums audio package ($300 value), exposure, radio play on 5 different stations, and a plug with SONY RECORDS!!! There is only more exciting things to come!

The Long Awaited Commercial is out!

Jan 14, 2007

Nicole's Walter E. Smithe Commercial is now out on all TV channels, but look closely for her as she is in a 'disguise'!

Nicole Garza's EPK on Sonicbids!

Jan 14, 2007

Check out Nicole's Electronic Press Kit at!!! This is an innovative and easy way to get into the marketplace!

Exciting Nicki G NEWS!!!!

Oct 24, 2006 is now up and is still the same site as Both urls will take you to the Official Website. Nicki's sophomore album, which is in the makings, will be entitled Nicole Garza Nicki G Reinvented. The eventual goal is to wain off of Nicki G and onto Nicole Garza, so tell you r friends!!! will still be up a running for a loooonnnnnnngggg while, however it os going to be a change over process that we all can be involved in. Thank you all for your tremendous support! Keep Musical!!!

Nicole Garza sings for the CUBS!!!!

Sep 17, 2006

On Sunday, September 17, 2006, Nicki sang God Bless America and the National Anthem for the Cin. vs. Chi game at Wrigley. Only 35 Americans this year had the honor of singing at Wrigley, and she happened to be one of them. Special thanks to Tim Smithe of Walter E. Smithe Furniture, Bill and his father Bill, Nirvana, Jennifer, the CUBS, Wrigley staff, and WGN for all of your help and support at the game. It was a HUGE success!!

World Class Noise featuring Nicki G releases Album!

Sep 6, 2006

Nicki G joined World Class Noise in Jan '06, and in June '06 released "Many Different People!" Go to the albums page to check out this will find the re-release of 2 of Nicki's Versatility songs!

Nicki G Lands Walter E. Smithe Commercial!!

May 23, 2006

Congratulations to Nicki G for winning the Walter E. Smithe's Search for a Chicago Superstar contest! Thank you to everyone that helped out and voted! Your support is greatly appreciated! Keep your eye out for her LIVE on the commercial!

Walter E. SMithe VIDEO up!!!

Apr 30, 2006

Go to the VIDEO page to view my LIVE audition from Walter E. Smithe!!!


Apr 28, 2006

Voting for the Walter E. Smithe Commercial has begun April 24!!! Log on to and show your support! Thanks everyone!!!

Nicki G Makes Top 10 in Walter E. Smithe!!

Apr 10, 2006

Nicki G made the top 10 contestants in Walter E. Smithe's auditions to find a Chicago Superstar to sing their jingle! Go to and vote for Nicole "Nicki G" Garza!! Thanks for your support! xoxo

Nicki G Versatility Voted Top 10 Local Music

Apr 10, 2006

Nicki's Debut album release, Versatility was voted Top 10 realeases of 2005 by The Times for independent Chicagoland music!!! Congrats Nicki!!!!