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."

Performing on Sunday with Garza as she brings the "Reinvented" songs to life at Northwoods will be her nine–piece, full-time group -- Phil Brines (drums), Garrett McGinn (bass), Anthony Bracco (guitar), Charlie Coffeen (keyboards), Chris Paquett (percussion), Terry Higgins (brass), with Sally Blandon and Ashley Stevenson on backing vocals.

Tickets are $5, but for $7 you can take home "Reinvented."

The opinions expressed are solely the writer's. Reach him at beatboss@aol.com.

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