Putting her own spin on the classic song writing of yesteryear, Nicole Atkins new album is a sucker punch to modern country lovers and oldie fans alike. Blending her alt-country into something that’s parts R&B, Jazz and pop she truly evolves as an artist. With some of the strongest and most emotional instrumentation she’s ever brought to a record Atkins has delivered her finest record to date and will be hard-pressed to find anyone who despises her record.
“A Little Crazy” dives right into that vintage 50’s crooner style with the right blend of alt-country and modern production. Atkins stellar voice makes the style all the more breathtaking, as she leans into the sadness wholeheartedly. On a jazzy groove, “Darkness Falls So Quiet” finds Atkins voice bouncing on a bass and piano hooks so delicious it’s hard not to rock along with her. Her rasp along to brass, and the slow shuffle of the track recalls a light touch of Dusty Springfield in the best way.
Moving along on a haunting drive of drums and piano, “Listen Up” shifts from dark to hopeful in its soulful mood. Riding the grooves effortlessly she jumps to the acapella section for an intense break in the track that comes out of left field. “Goodnight Rhonda Lee” finally goes a little simple, recalling tones of Roy Orbison while going in depth with the little touches of sound. The sultry little guitar solo and little swells that permeate the background of the track take it somewhere you wouldn’t expect of many tracks like it.
“If I Could” uses the simplest little hook to build a stellar and addictive track. The back and forth between Atkins and guitars allows the dynamic swells to hit with a lot more heft and makes each voice’s big moments away from the riff all the more potent. Taking more a more downbeat mood, “Colors” tells the story of a woman down and suffering. Recalling the colors that she just can’t quite seem to get over, her story takes hold over some truly gut-wrenching strings.
Rollicking piano sets the stage on “Brokedown Luck” as the snappy drums work in with them. With the band as tight and sublime as they are on the record the big blooming choruses are a hearty kick each time, with the little shrieks along the way being like cherries on top. “I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t)” carries a depressed revelation, noting everything we take for granted until we have little left otherwise. The subdued instrumentation takes off in the bridge as the drums and piano lay out such emotion for Atkins to sing over that it goes from sad to euphoric in a few moments.
“Sleepwalking” takes a suave R&B groove and lets Atkins find her inner Amy Winehouse, with brass and jazzy drums on full blast. While it’s initially hard to overlook similarities to “Valerie” the unique instrumental moments and ways the track veers into darker feelings make it stand out. The twinkling guitar and piano of “A Night of Serious Drinking” finds Atkins lamenting on the tragedy of being unable to rise from mistakes as she descends into a drunken stupor. The trading instrumentation on the bridge reflects the unfocused delirium Atkins is singing about and her sad realizations are almost too much to bear at times.
Closing on “A Dream Without Pain” tones of Mazzy Star bleed through the heavy piano and slide guitar and while some may feel cheese in the writing, it’s the genuine melancholy of the lyrics and delivery that make it all come together devastatingly. Releasing all the built up emotions on her pre-chorus swells and the instrumental tears, the track ends the album on a soaring high note.
Words by Owen Maxwell