For around a decade, Nicole Atkins has led an impressive solo career while also finding time to collaborate with many other folks, including guesting on A.C. Newman's 2009 album Get Guilty. Her fourth full-length album in ten years finds Atkins at her most confident and relaxed, striking a balance between gentle self-deprecation and raw soul-baring.
Though she had some very skilled help to summon this sweetly vintage sound (the production team behind Leon Bridges' excellent debut, plus a co-write from Chris Isaak on "A Little Crazy"), Atkins' singing and songwriting is at its best here, too. Her voice has a classic-sounding, slight raspiness to it, but still exhibits a wide range, from the yodel in "A Little Crazy" to the gritty belting on "Brokedown Luck," both of which stand out all the more for her restrained singing in the verses.
"Goodnight Rhonda Lee" is a fond farewell to Atkins' drinking persona after struggling to get sober. While she uses the metaphor of sending a friend home when they're too drunk, it's still delivered with a playful wink for the good times that were had, and underpinned by the deeper acknowledgement that it's time to straighten up and fly right. "I Love Living Here (Even When I Don't)" paints a detailed image of a hometown full of idiosyncrasies that may be irksome and endearing at the same time, and more broadly ties into the album's theme of taking life's hardships and beauty as one ride.
Amid soulful, R&B-indebted sounds married smoothly to the more country-leaning, Atkins has created her best and most resounding work yet. (Single Lock Records)