Local drivers may complain about the lack of street signs, but for Nicole Nelson, 31, and Dwight Ritcher, 34 — a.k.a. Dwight & Nicole — Somerville has been full of signs. Now they’ve arrived at their long-awaited debut album, appropriately dubbed “!Signs,” whose release the blues duo will celebrate Friday, Feb. 5 at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square as a thank-you concert for their local fans.
For Nelson and Ritcher, the exclamation point happened two years ago when they were visiting friends in Somerville for a wedding and the house burned down, taking all of their equipment and clothing with it.
They didn’t see it as an omen, though. In fact, Nelson said she started to see that they had nothing concrete to show for their efforts. They’d been making music as a team for six years and both had performed solo before that. Nelson had come to Boston from New York to pursue an education at Berklee, which was what got her into the blues scene and introduced her to Ritcher.
“But everything was this make believe sense of security,” said Nelson. “I was renting an apartment. I was paying somebody else’s mortgage.”
Then she and Ritcher moved to New York at the same time, independently of each other. Whenever they made guest appearances at each other’s shows, people asked whether they had a CD together.
“We’re like yin and yang, vocally speaking,” said Nelson, who decided to get in touch with her longtime friend, Milt Reder, owner of Rear Window Studios in Brookline. Nelson had recorded with Reder once before when she stepped in for a song in one of his shows. She sang George Gershwin’s "Summertime" that night. Reder then recorded an album with her, but they never released it because Nelson didn’t hear herself coming across in the music.
“Some people, you just hear them say ‘hello’ and you’re like ‘Wow! I want to hear that on a microphone!” said Reder. “When she got back in touch, I immediately knew she had found what she was looking for: she’s been searching for her own style, and that’s what started coming through with Dwight.”
Reder invited Nelson and Richter to record a new album, living in his house while they worked on it if they needed. Not having a label or any kind of management, Nelson and Ritcher relied on fans — many from Somerville — to fund the new album. Another musician suggested paying for production by selling preorders. The strategy earned the duo $30,000.
Reder has high hopes for “!Signs.” “There seems to be a need for stuff that’s not too slick, not too polished,” he said. “This fills that need. Dwight and Nicole are the real deal. They’re not trying to come up with the flavor of the month; these songs have a timeless quality.”
He hopes that “!Signs” will transcend categories such as age and genre preference. In fact, he’s already seen that it can just from the responses of people around the studio and community.
“People just started jumping on board,” said Nelson. “You don’t need a label if you have fans.”
Ritcher agreed. “It’s a shared sense of accomplishment,” he said. “The show this Friday is a celebration with our fans to thank them for all the help they’ve given us.”
The celebration begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased through www.somervilletheateronline.com. The theatre is barely a block from the Davis stop on the Red Line – right across from Johnny D’s, where Dwight & Nicole played their first “real” show.
“Somerville is really our second home,” said Nelson. “It’s where my heart is.”