This week, Makin Waves reviews Asbury Park rock queen Nicole Atkins’ new soulful album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, which she will support with several tour dates, including Monmouth County Fair on July 29 and Shadow of the City Festival on Sept. 10.
Nashville-based Neptune native Nicole Atkins’ fourth studio album and first record in three years, Goodnight Rhonda Lee (on the Single Lock label), was recorded at Nile City Sound in Fort Worth, Texas, with producers Austin Jenkins, Josh Block, and Chris Vivion (Leon Bridges). The 11-song vintage soul collection inspired by Dusty Springfield, Candi Staton, Roy Orbison and Janis Joplin opens with “A Little Crazy,” co-written with the Orbison-loving Chris Isaak. The pining tune recalls the rock ‘n’ roll legend’s “Crying,” as well as The Righteous Brothers’ blue-eyed soul classic “Unchained Melody.”
My favorite number is the Springfield-like strut of “Darkness Falls So Quiet,” a moody, Muscle Shoals-inspired horn track with a touch of Bobbie Gentry’s down-home soul. All of the soulfulness of Goodnight Rhonda Lee would make Sounds of Asbury Park architects Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt proud, especially this track because it stirs up the same emotions as “Candy’s Room” from Springsteen’s 1978 classic Darkness on the Edge of Town album.
Everyone, especially anxious high school and college kids, can benefit from the message of the Candi Staton-flavored “Listen Up”: “It takes mistakes to grow.”
I especially love the line: “I should have listened up when I was young, but I always talked too much.”
Born out of a struggle with sobriety and fulfillment, Goodnight Rhonda Lee shares some of that emotional and personal tug-of-war on the beautiful piano-and-violin-driven ballad “Colors” and the closing turmoil of “Dream Without Pain.”
In a bye-bye to bad behavior, Dusty Springfield is all over the Spanish-tinged title track with a little nod to those boots made famous by Nancy Sinatra.
The haunting echoes of “If I Could” and “Sleepwalking” and the ode to her former hometown of Asbury Park, “I Love Living Here Even When I Don’t,” also will stick with listeners and remain lasting treats.
The music industry is a brutal business that can carve out one’s heart like a pack of hungry vampires and suck out a strong artist’s soul until only a fragile shell of greatness remains. I’m glad that Atkins has survived to make another impressive record that keeps her moving forward along the rocky road of show-business success.
That road will bring her home to Jersey to perform July 29 at the Monmouth County Fair in Freehold and Sept. 10 at the Shadow of the City Festival at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park with Bleachers, Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem, Titus Andronicus, Brick + Mortar and more.
Other tour dates include Sept. 8 at the Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia; and Sept. 9 at the Mercury Lounge in New York.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/