You’ll find few technically strong vocalists in my music collection. The voices I like tend to the unique rather than the technically good, and they’re often used as much as another instrument than as a voice. I also have a bit of a prejudice against “great voices”: too often these turn into the kind of horrible wailing I associate with Celine Dion, Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey.
So it’s unusual for me to like Nicole Atkins, a 32-year-old from Brooklyn. She has a gorgeous clear soulful voice with fantastic range. She goes from a deep moan to a high pitched wail, sometimes in the same song. Her music does have a great bluesy feel, which probably explains why I like her. I only found her by accident: it’s a quiet week for new releases so I surfed for something new and found her.
“You Come to Me,” the fourth song on the album (her sophomore full-length effort), captures the vibe perfectly. Her voice rises from a bluesy middle range to wail over the thump and churn of the band playing in driving Southern rock mode. Her bluesy voice is heard to similar effect in album opener “Vultures,” which begins steathily with the ring of a delicate keyboard and a quiet walking bass. Her blues roots are most showcased in “My Baby Don’t Lie,” with her voice distorted, and harmonica honking over a slide guitar in this blues stomp.
It’s not all rockers as the album also contains a number of slower pieces. Her voice is used to strong effect in the first ballad on the album, “Hotel Plaster.” “War Is Hell” is another strong ballad.
The music occasionally sounds recycled, particularly toward the end of the album. Obviously this hard not to do in a genre that’s been explored so thoroughly. “You Were the Devil” has the same kind of late-60s/early-70s psychedelic pop feel of Tim Buckley that Neko Case captures so well. “The Tower” is in a similar vein.
This music doesn’t break any new ground, but with great songwriting, gutsy singing, and a nice range of blues, soul, R&B and pop, it’s a nice addition to anyone’s collection.