“This is the record I’ve been wanting to make since I was 12,” says Nicole Atkins. “It has so many layers, it’s able to do whatever it wants without defining itself as one thing.”
It’s been a tumultuous three years since the release of Atkins’ acclaimed 2007 debut, Neptune City, but the wait has proved worth it. Mondo Amore is a courageous, provocative work, fraught with dramatic tension, sweeping emotions, and musical ambition, with Atkins’ remarkable voice commanding attention at the forefront.
Atkins has a sound that grew up on Roy Orbison and Carole King, and Mondo Amore, might warrant comparisons to the ironic sometimes-twang of Jenny Lewis or the bursting emotional sound of indie-rocker Lissie, or even the crazy vocal tricks and creepy edge of Tori Amos. Half of Atkins' songs sound like they were crafted in a desert; they are all solitude and dust. Her voice seems like it’s echoing in canyons.
Atkins' lyrics are dark and confessional; she's got all those common themes of broken hearts and cheating boys, but her imagery is in devils and dark magic and vultures. Everything Atkins sings sounds desolate, but she sings it all with such a swelling voice that she makes even a three-piece band sound like a symphony.
Having spent the past few years living in her native Asbury Park, Atkins dealt with personal and professional seismic shifts by returning to her adopted home of Brooklyn where she recorded her album at The Seaside Lounge Recording Studio in Park Slope. Producer Phil Palazzolo (A.C. Newman, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists) offered his services behind the glass.
Atkins’ goal from the get-go was to create a more volatile sound than she had ever previously attempted, a sonic approach akin to such influences as Scott Walker and Nick Cave, while also touching on longtime inspirations like the blues and classic 60s psychedelic rock.
“The production of the last record was a little bit too cheery for my taste,” Atkins says. “It was really lush and pretty and this time I wanted to deconstruct the sound a little bit. With everything that was going on, and because of the subject matter, I knew I needed something more aggressive.”
The loose collective of musicians who assisted Atkins on Mondo Amore has now morphed into a leaner, meaner backing combo, now dubbed The Black Sea. “This is the best lineup I’ve ever played with,” she says. “It feels like a family, like a band of brothers and sisters. This band is really into it, almost as much as I am,” she says. “We’re trying to figure out how to work these songs for a trio, with me just singing. Trying to make the biggest sound possible with the least amount of people.”
As its all-encompassing title suggests, Mondo Amore is a big, bold collection, a grandly romantic song cycle fraught with all the passion, anger, tenderness, and devotion of Atkins’ own extraordinary heart.
“It’s so much love,” she agrees, “it’s borderline obsessive.”
Tickets for Nicole Atkins at the Iron Horse in Northampton on Friday, April 1st are available at Northampton Box Office, 413-586-8686 and online at IHEG.com.