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New Jersey-born Nicole Atkins’ career/ life has seen her transcend through a good deal of heartache and waywardness as she struggled to stay sober long enough to build on the good times. Goodnight Rhonda Lee has the Nashville resident of the last ten years speak of her problems and how she is now ready to take life and career forward. ‘This record came to me at a time of deep transition says Atkins. Some days were good, some not so good. What I did gain, though, from starting to make some changes and going forward, putting it out on the table, was a joy in what I do again. Joy in the process, and a newfound confidence that I don’t think I’ve ever had until now. The album title, Goodnight Rhonda Lee also came from those feelings. Rhonda Lee was kind of my alias for bad behaviour, and it was time to put that persona to bed’.
On enlisting modern day wrecking crew Niles City Sound in Fort Worth, Texas Atkins ensured her artful creations and generally artistic shaping of her vocals and sound would be in good hands. Enhanced greatly by the subtle accompaniments her work glows, like the golden sunlight of dawn. Beautiful and awash in small hypnotic nuances that cling to you like a limpet on a boat Atkins' music recalls great artists of the past; Candi Staton, Carole King and man she co-wrote the lead off track (“A Little Crazy”), old friend Chris Isaak. What better company could she keep that him!
Recorded live to tape in only five days, the sound is real, and though much of the talk it about the above noted “A Little Crazy” the song that blew me away was title-cut “Goodnight Rhonda Lee”. It comes with a killer production, wonderful electric lead, rhythm guitar and percussion; it is the kind of song Isaak would love to get his hands on! But he would be hard pushed to match the vocal performance of Atkins. It doesn’t stop there as she weaves her way through the dramatic “If I Could” and warm and tender “Colors” plus a jazz drenched piano intro of “Brokedown Luck” that soon shifts to a snatch of instrumental work (Garth Hudson-esque keyboards) akin to an old Band classic, and there is more. I love the punchy swagger to her vocals as she calls on pop, rock and singer-songwriter traits in a good old-fashioned way. Her vocals are equal to the instrumental entries as she injects hints of Janis Joplin no less, vocally. She moves around the chessboard, seamlessly. Soul, r&b come into play on “Sleepwalking” as she glides majestically through the song. Prior to her speaking of old habits on jazz etched “A Night For Serious Drinkin”. To close you have the poignant “A Dream Without Pain”, and there is her pop jazz tendered “I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t)” as she juggles her thoughts on how life really is.
With the release of Goodnight Rhonda Lee Nicole Atkins has certainly come of age. I can’t wait to hear the result and direction her follow up takes and how her career progress.
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