Nicole Atkins Says “Goodnight Rhonda Lee”…
There has always been an element of soul in Nicole Atkins’ voice. On her new album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, she wears it on her sleeve.
The opening track, “A Little Crazy,” has mournful echoes of her earliest work, “Neptune City,” only stronger, punchier and more soulful. It’s a warm-up for a deep dive into powerful songs about personal struggles, pain and heartbreak, but also about redemption and not beating yourself up about where you’ve gone wrong. “You gotta make mistakes to know / It takes mistakes to grow,” she belts in “Listen Up.”
In the title song, which she wrote with Chris Isaak, she sings to a woman named Rhonda Lee (her alter ago?), taking her to task for “holding on tight to a life you outgrew,” but then urging her not to let circumstances “crush ya” and acknowledging that “change don’t come easily.”
Atkins ultimately triumphs. The closing number, “A Dream Without Pain,” concludes with, “I woke up from a nightmare to a dream / The most beautiful dream.”
One line that really resonated with us comes from the album’s second cut (and current single), “Darkness Falls So Quiet”: “My records are old friends / I have trusted in them many times before.” For us, Goodnight Rhonda Lee is a trusted new friend — a record that, to borrow a snippet from “Brokedown Luck,” we’ve been “wearing the groove out.”
…AND HAS A GREAT NIGHT IN BROOKLYN
On November 7, Nicole Atkins performed a rocking, soulful set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, just a mile north of the namesake bridge where, she once told Brooklyn Roads, she used to walk back and forth every morning and get many of her songwriting ideas.
After opening with killer renditions of favorites such as “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “Who Killled the Moonlight” from her previous albums, Atkins treated the enthusiastic crowd to eight songs from Goodnight Rhonda Lee, showing off both her range as a performer and growth as a songwriter.
The album was recorded live-to-tape, so it’s no surprise that she was able to render these selections so faithfully while infusing them with an extra dose of energy to bring out more of the raw emotion that such confessional, sometimes heartbreaking songs are born of.
Halfway through her set Atkins and her band were joined by Binky Griptite, guitarist for the Dap-Kings. Griptite is also the host of WFUV’s Saturday night show, “The Boogie Down” — and he helped the band and the crowd do just that on “Brokedown Luck,” “Listen Up” and other numbers.
The highlight for us was “A Night of Serious Drinking,” co-written by Brooklynite Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds). The song has a real four-in-the-morning quality to it, and to enhance the mood, Atkins had the lighting crew engage the Music Hall’s mirror ball. Coupled with her soulful, plaintive vocal, it had a truly mesmerizing effect. Pardon the cliché, but a hush did indeed fall over the crowd.
Atkins, a natural born storyteller with an amiable stage presence, told a slightly risqué anecdote involving Chris Isaak and laughed at another publication’s misquoting of the line “I’m still haunted” from “Sleepwalking” as “I’m still horny.” She also gave shout-outs to her parents, who were in attendance, and to the borough of Brooklyn.
“I miss living here,” the now Nashville-based Atkins yelled. The crowd’s response made it clear that Brooklyn misses her as well.