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Nicole Atkins “Mondo Amore” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

Nicole Atkins‘ Mondo Amore is the culmination of an immense change in the vocalist’s life; “Got a new band, wrote a new album, got a new apartment, new life, getting a new label, and yeah, basically changing everything,” she explained in an interview last year. Recording some 18 songs with her new band before eventually pairing Mondo Amore down to a trim 10 tracks, the album goes a long way to reflect this sense of chaos. A self-described collection of songs which reflects a myriad of influences and sounds, Mondo Amoreappears to be the result of a renewed freedom to experiment with a variety of different styles. As with any great change however, the immediate question that plagues this new approach is one of doubt: Was the change for the better? If looking only at Atkins’ mammoth presence on the album’s opener, the answer would appear to be “undeniably so.”

Vultures” is haunting to its core. Opening to an eerie echo of strings and a menacing bass line, Atkins’ steamy hum begins to assume control of the song as she begins, “Careful where you walk/Remain in the light/Watch where death resides/Find you from all sides.” As the song’s booming chorus erupts so too does Atkins’ wail, “Take all they can get until you’re dirt and bones”; how such a booming sound resides in such a small frame is beyond me. Unfortunately, one of the key downsides of attempting to build an album on a foundation of variation is its likely tendency to sound inconsistent. After such a brooding contrast between dark and light in the album opener, the band follows with “Cry Cry Cry,” which is little more than pale, jam band funk. Not only does the track not rest comfortably amongst the rest of the album, but it simply doesn’t reflect Atkins’, nor the Black Sea’s, potential.

Thankfully the rest of the variations in mood and tempo throughout the album aren’t all as unfulfilling as “Cry Cry Cry.” The gentle build up in “Hotel Plaster” finds the band take comfort in the slow boil of the song’s pace. Later in the album “War is Hell” contrasts the vocal collaboration between Atkins and My Morning Jacket‘s Jim James with a slow, string-heavy pop ballad; the pair harmonizing “The civil war of us.” “Heavy Boots” and “The Tower” close out the album; the former’s piano-driven base gives way to bursts of booming percussion while the latter purposefully sways, patiently waiting until the stage has been rightfully primed before Atkins’ wails are again unleashed.

Aside from the various moments that stand out on Mondo Amore, it seems as though the band sounds at its most confident during the belly of the album. “You Will Come To Me” yields a driving sound equalled by Atkins’ passionate vocals. The southern twang and lightly distorted vocals of “My Baby Don’t Lie” add a level of playfulness to Mondo Amore, both musically and lyrically, “If she keeps on spreadin’ rumors, well, that bitch is gonna have to die.” “You Were The Devil” carries a dangerous tone reminiscent of a wilder era with Atkins’ throaty hum and a momentous rhythm eventually carrying the song out. What is potentially the finest moment on the album comes amidst those songs however. Slowly building, “This is for Love” introduces itself with an aura of potential; energy swirling as the song builds speed. “I want to talk some new language” Atkins moans before taking off in the album’s chorus, repeating “This is for love” while the band actually takes over as the focal point of the track.

“This is for Love” doesn’t have the power of “Vultures” or the emotional hook of “The Tower” but the song does go a long way in appropriately combining the musical elements that are heard elsewhere throughout Mondo Amore. Perhaps the song embodies the contrast of influence and the band’s collective interests that are felt deeper in album’s more apparent musical shifts. Whatever the case, the song also represents a trend that is heard throughout the better part of the recording: it absorbs all of the emotion built up through this time of change and delivers on Atkins and her new band’s potential to create something beautiful; true, even with “Cry Cry Cry” in the mix.