Nicole Atkins "Good Night Rhonda Lee"

One of the joys of checking out a new Nicole Atkins record is guessing what musical direction she might take. You can count on the quality of the project because the woman is consistently strong. She possesses an incredible voice with a big expressive range, production is always top notch, and her bands are talented articulate players. Atkin’s music tends to live in the pop arena but she’s played with darker rock elements and retro influences, and a few confused critics have referred to her genre as folk.

Good Night Rhonda Lee straddles these genres and more, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say she transcends category. Her muse is an explorer who doesn’t recognize borders, but it does invite input from collaborators. Atkins teams up with crooner Chris Isaak for two tunes, the broken-heart pop anthem “A Little Crazy,” and the country/western infused title track. Songwriter Louise Goffin (daughter of Carole King and Jerry Goffin) chips in on “If I Could,” a song that, not surprisingly sounds like a Brill Building effort. “Darkness Falls” offers Atkins’ funkier side with slinky rhythms, horns, and strings. “Listen Up” examines the process of learning through trial and error and sports the kind of jazz-pop sensibility that epitomizes Lake Street Dive’s music.

Atkins’ songs are more introspective than on her past recordings, reflecting major changes in the singer’s life, including marriage and a move away from the New York, New Jersey area to Nashville. “I Love Living Here” deals directly with the process of moving away from everything you know and everyone who knows you. Not surprisingly the album is more subdued than on her earlier work, but it’s also less polished than her earlier recordings. The album was recorded more quickly than other albums and allows for real time sound and mishaps which are incorporated into the whole. It loans a more vigorous feel to the album despite the tamped tempo.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)