Nicole Atkins – Mondo Amore

Epic is a description so overused as to be leeched of meaning. So I’m not damning Nicole Atkins with faint praise when I say that she’s got an epic sensibility – and a voice to go with it. The title of her sophomore release implies that ambition, which comes wrapped up in tightly arranged 3- and 4-minute songs rich in instrumental texture and big-beat dynamics. This Jersey girl knows how to rock, but she’s also got a lingering romance with classic 1960s pop. You know, the kind of condensed symphonic wallop and surging emotional force that made Phil Spector the Tycoon of Teen, amped up Bruce Springsteen’s signature anthems, and gives this album its big, unbeatable heart.

The Neptune, N.J., singer returns after some major professional shifts. She switched labels, leaving behind Columbia for Razor & Tie; got rid of The Sea, the band with which she recorded 2007’s Neptune City; and revamped her sound without tinkering too much with the essentials: that sweeping, fearless, soulful voice. It’s what ties together everything on Mondo Amore, which true to its name spins around an assortment of styles. The album closes with “The Tower,” a brooding, romantic showcase for Atkins’ pop-operatic chops, loaded with stinging blues guitar solos and “House of the Rising Sun” piano, which bolster the singer’s inner Pavarotti. The cool thing is, that’s really a grand summation. Elsewhere, Atkins whips up some sassy R&B strut with AM radio grit (“Cry, Cry, Cry”), essays girlie garage rock (“You Come To Me”), woos with a delicate ballroom lullaby (“Hotel Plaster”), waxes gloriously Orbisonian (“You Were the Devil”), and straps on her thigh-boots for some Zeppish stomping (“My Baby Don’t Lie”) via distorted country blues.

A pop historian as adventure girl as owner of an amazing set of pipes, Atkins is a lot of performers in one. Mondo Amore is her world, one big enough for all of them.

Nicole Atkins
Mondo Amore
[Razor & Tie]