Nicole Atkins (photo by Anna Webber, PR)
Goodnight Rhonda Lee
Single Lock Records
It’s been a decade since Neptune, New Jersey native Nicole Atkins wowed fans with her first solo album, Neptune City. Her powerful, soaring, and soulful voice expressed an engaging charisma that cut to the heart.
This quality carried through to her next two albums, 2011’s Mondo Amore and 2014’s Slow Phaser, as well as a series of EPs and various other recordings. Now, Atkins reaches deep within to face personal matters which results in an emotionally riveting fourth album called Goodnight Rhonda Lee.
Goodnight Rhonda Lee was a therapeutic album for Atkins to write; she faced numerous personal issues that fueled this collection of songs. According to Atkins' press bio, the newly married musician realized that she had a problem with drinking that needed to be addressed. That battle was then compounded when her father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Moving from her Asbury Park home on the Jersey shore to Nashville served as a cherry atop the anxieties that real life threw her way. But the complications thrust upon Atkins' own life also thickened her skin as a songwriter. Inspiration struck and creativity ensued.
“A Little Crazy,” written with her friend Chris Isaak, is a vintage bit of soulful country that conjures thoughts of Patsy Cline and Dusty Springfield. The track sets the scene for the album, both musically and topically. “Listen Up” is a personal conversation Atkins has with herself imploring that she listen to others’ good advice instead of her own negativity. The title track, also written with Isaak, refers to her “bad girl” alter ego, Rhonda Lee. It’s clear that Atkins is through with Rhonda Lee’s shenanigans and wishes to part with her company forever.
Atkins addresses alcoholism in two songs: “Colors,” a somber song with just piano and string accompaniment, and the melodramatic, “A Night Of Serious Drinking,” written with Jim Sclavunos of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. The adjustment to her new Nashville surroundings comes through in “I Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t),” “Darkness Falls So Quiet” and “Sleepwalking,” one of the album’s most magnificent and retro moments.
Goodnight Rhonda Lee was recorded in five days in Fort Worth, Texas with the Niles City Sound team of songwriters, producers and musicians that includes Austin Jenkins, Josh Block and Chris Vivion. (It’s the same team behind Leon Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home.)
Goodnight Rhonda Lee is a masterful album from Atkins. She perfectly harnesses the emotional power of her voice and uses it to deliver a collection of passionately charged and vintage-sounding songs that cleanse the spirit, inspire the soul, and empower the being. Atkins' skills as a songwriter match her skills as a singer, making Goodnight Rhonda Lee a perfect demonstration of an artist approaching her full potential.