Review: Nicole Atkins – Mondo Amore

Nicole Atkins isn’t typical when compared to many other female performers. Dressed like a bohemian princess, her musical stylings are more likely to find influence from Jim Morrison than Whitney Houston. A potent combination of classic songwriter, powerful vocalist and sultry beauty, Nicole Atkins is free of Columbia records and ready to attack your senses yet again.

To this point there has been nothing typical about Nicole Atkins, so why would her new album be any different? Mondo Amore plays almost like a History of Rock 101. Atkins shows the sheer diversity of her singing and song writing ability by jumping effortlessly from style to style.

The album kicks off with the single “Vultures,” which is more or less a statement on how the album is going to turn out. The track is an unforgivingly sexy and soulful rock and roll song of days gone by. Atkins’ haunting vocal work bellows out over bombastic drums and gritty guitar.

It’s clear why the track was chosen as the album’s single, as it really compiles all the best things that Atkins attempts to do with Mondo Amore. Her trademark dramatic vocals are there, while her songwriting now displays an obvious old school rock bite and the new band is with her the whole time making a righteous noise.

As soon as track one wraps up, a drum fill launches us into a song that sounds strangely almost like a collaboration between Cake and Sheryl Crow with “Cry Cry Cry.” The guitar is funky, with square sounding licks that give way to some old school grinding solos. The track almost gives you whiplash with its unprovoked energy after the slow burn of “Vultures.”

“Hotel Plaster” brings the energy back down again with a song that has the feel of some of her early work, and wouldn’t be out of place on her 2006 EP Bleeding Diamonds. Atkins lets her voice fly as the ballad soars higher and higher.

Like clockwork, the album shifts gears with “You Will Come to Me,” which sounds like a beautiful union of a Stooges song with a Led Zep-esque interlude. The energy is high as the piano flips back and forth between powerful upward progressions and pounding 1/8th notes. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could resist Atkins blistering vocal demands to come to her.

The tension of the track is relieved by the quirky track “My Baby Don’t Lie.” With its old bluesy feel, tempo changes and low fidelity vocals, the track seem like it would be comfortable as a b-side on a Beatles single. It has an old school creative charm that makes the song feel sincere despite being playful.

From this point the album settles down into a comfort zone that will be familiar to fans of Atkins’ previous work. “This is for Love” is a respectable mid-tempo song with deceptively lazy sounding slide guitar work and a bit of country infused for good measure.

“You Were the Devil” will be the track that gets Atkins’ her now seemingly manditory comparisons to the likes of Roy Orbison. With floating reverb filled guitar parts, the track has a desidedly vintage feel and sound. Sitting in the middle of the album, I feel this might end up being one of the more overlooked tracks. Still, it’s a great song that has a lot of the features that first attracted me to Atkins’ music back in 2006.

The album remains mellow, following up with the tracks “War is Hell” and “Heavy Boots.” Both are both great songs, but pretty straight forward forward Atkins material. The potent lyrics and emotional weight are what really drive this pair of tracks home.

Atkins wraps up the album with the six minute epic “The Tower.” It seems to be a fitting bookshelf to put opposite of “Vultures.” It really feels like that last song of a good rock concert, brooding and taking its time to develop into a classic rock song. Just like the relationship being sung about, it really builds to a climatic end as all parties involved prepare to go their separate ways.

While all the music on Mondo Amore is great and amazingly performed, I am on the fence on whether the wide range of style hurts or helps the album. I am personally the type of person that listens to an album from beginning to end in the original track order. Listening to playlists, random selections or tracks out of order is something that often makes my skin crawl.

The first half of Mondo Amore almost sounds like a collection of songs that Sony didn’t wouldn’t let her do on her last album. Gathering it all up, there is this great hodgepodge of creativity. In the end, I think the album is more about Atkins rediscovering her musical voice and exploring her newly found freedom from the corporate rock machine.

The result is a very strong rock album that shows that Nicole Atkins is ready to move on and make some great music. Mondo Amore only gets better with repeat listens and is a must buy. Sexy, smoldering and powerful, it’s an album that plays like a love letter to rock and roll.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

Nicole Atkins’ Mondo Amore releases Feb. 8th and can be pre-ordered through Amazon.com on CD, LP Vinyl and via MP3 Download.

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