Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for a while, you’ve been made familiar with JOVM mainstay Nicole Atkins, a Neptune, NJ-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, best known for a sound that draws influence from 50s crooner pop, 60s psych rock and psych pop, soul music and Brill Building pop — with some critics comparing her sound to the likes of Roy Orbison and others; in fact, Atkins has publicly cited the favorites of her parents’ record collection as being major influences on her, including The Ronettes, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, The Sundays‘ Harriet Wheeler and Cass Elliot.
And as you may recall, Atkins’ fourth full-length album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee marks several major occasions in the renowned singer/songwriter’s career and personal life — the album was written during and after Atkins was in rehab, and has her looking back at her life with a clarity that she hadn’t had before; it’s also the first recorded output she’s released in over three years; and it also marks a major shift from her previous work. While Goodnight Rhonda Lee‘s first single “A Little Crazy,” a collaboration with Chris Issak was a delicate and soulful ballad that clearly nods to some of Atkins’ earliest influences — in particular, Roy Orbison with a hint of Patsy Cline. However, “Darkness Falls So Quiet,” the album’s second single was a stomping and soulful track that nodded at Dusty Springfield —with a warm and soulful arrangement that features a gorgeous string section, twinkling keys and a Daptone Records-like horn section. “Sleepwalking,” the album’s third single, continued along the soulful vein of its predecessor but with a shuffling arrangement reminiscent of early Motown Records — to my ear, I thought of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles,Marvin Gaye, and even Charles Bradley.
Interestingly, the Neptune, NJ-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter recently contributed a slow-burning, Dusty Springfield-like rendition of “O Holy Night,” which features twinkling keys, a soaring string arrangement and a propulsive backbeat that will be part of Amazon Music’s “Christmas Soul” playlist. And what makes this rendition stand out for me is the fact that it’s arguable one of the more earthy versions I’ve heard. As Atkins explains of her choice for the playlist, “‘O Holy Night’ has always been my favorite Christmas song. The first time I heard it, I burst into tears because it was so powerful. I think it was the first time I cried from music taking me over. I always wanted to record this song in a style that made it more human in a way that it could bring the message to the angels from the earth rather than the song already residing up in heaven.”