Album Review: Nicole Atkins – Goodnight Rhonda Lee

The new album ‘Goodnight Rhonda Lee’ from Nashville-based Nicole Atkins is a soulful blast of pure personality from start to finish, making it undoubtedly one of the best albums of the summer. 

‘A Little Crazy‘ sweeps us straight into the melodrama – a heartbreak ballad that sounds like Atkins is singing it at two in the morning outside her ex-boyfriend’s house, while weeping into the rain. There’s just something perfectly unhinged about her voice, like a little bit of madness has brought out the best in her. This song is one of two on the record co-written with Chris Isaak and together they have channeled the ghosts of Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline to utter perfection.

Darkness Falls So Quiet continues the theme of loneliness and broken relationships. The records she calls friends, the old vinyl that got her through the breakup – you feel their influences here but she makes the heartbreak soul and country sound her own. The production is strong, allowing the songs to breathe and shine.

Listen Up is so brilliant – an anthem for big mouths everywhere (I can relate). The self-deprecating fun of the video endears me to her even more. Goodnight Rhonda Lee is a waltzy, crackly little vintage country number which could be the best thing on the album but then there’s so many good songs it’s hard to pick a favourite. Colors changes the tempo a little with its somber piano story about alcohol and the blues.

Brokedown Luck starts side two of the album (let’s be clear this one is made for listening to on vinyl) and really shows off the horns and soulful sound of her band. This is a song about being literally and metaphorically broken down, finding yourself in a place where bad luck always wins. But when the groove is this good you kind of just want to get stuck there with her.

I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t), is another big ballad, which echoes the themes of Bacharach’s Walk on By but expands it into epic musical proportions. There’s a nice seventies soul vibe on Sleepwalking, creating a warm familiarity, also heard on those great Daptone records. A Dream Without Pain is drenched in sad beauty, a fitting way to finish this excellent album.

And I’m not the only one who loves this record, Ryan Adams called it ‘badass’ and that’s the kind of recommendation that can only help Nicole Atkins reach the listeners she deserves. Goodnight Rhonda Lee is a gift for your ears, so excuse me while I go turn the record over again.

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