Nicole Atkins recorded Italian Ice at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with some of her “best musical friends,” including Britt Daniel, John Paul White and members of The Bad Seeds. Intrigued already?
AM Gold hits with an easy listening vibe and girl gang harmonies. The gloves are off: “don’t get stuck in the mirror cuz that shit’s rough.” Atkins rejects religious comfort in favour of the primacy of people and music.
Mind Eraser is bassy and whisper sung. It soon takes an interesting turn, for the chorus follows siren synths piling up to a melodic cacophony.
Domino strides in with discordant tones using a funk beat and a sultry vocal reminiscent of Juanita Stein. The falling domino motif adorns the album cover but a dominant metaphor in the song is passage of time.
Time stretches out in the next track: “I’m losing sleep/I’m not tired/remind me it’s a slow ride/yeah, we got Forever.”
Spoon’s Britt Daniel duets on the gentle tune Captain, offering rescue through love: “I’ll pull you on deck/I can be your captain for once…so come on back to my arms.”
Descriptive prowess comes into play in Never Going Home Again. We go from a “Hello Kitty bed” in Ohio to “a murder motel” and a stark put down: “I’ve met much better people in jail.” She commits to her dissolute, nomadic lifestyle, despite the consequences: “I’m not proud of what I’ve done/you wouldn’t know me if you saw me, momma.”
Atkins reaches out to St Dymphna in a retro pop piece. For those not au fait with Catholic figures, Dymphna is the patron saint of depression, anxiety, mental illness, as well as survivors of sexual assault and incest, because the 7th century 15 year old was reportedly murdered by her widowed father after refusing to sleep with him. The narrator in the song is on the verge of a breakdown, calling out for help. So far, no response.
Strings sing as Atkins croons the tender track Far From Home. Then that sharp descriptive sense returns in Road To Nowhere – a “rotted” relationship gets a rock growl over broad stroke riffs and electric chords.
These Old Roses feels like a score from a forgotten old movie, right down to the final blended harmonies. That same kind of classic harmony punctuates despite Atkins’ punkish roar on In The Splinters.
All in all, the album dances around romance, retro cool, religion and rebellion to some considerable success.
Italian Ice by Nicole Atkins is out now. You can get the record on translucent ruby red vinyl online at places like Rough Trade.
Photo credit: Barbara FG