A native of the New Jersey shore town of Neptune and now a resident of Nashville, Nicole Atkins released her terrific debut album, Neptune City, in 2007. She has collaborated with artists such as Chris Isaak, Tommy Stinson of The Replacements and Jim Sclavunos of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Her vocal style is something of a cross between Roy Orbison and Dusty Springfield. A powerhouse vocalist, she is equally adept at singing rock and alt-country songs. She has appeared on Showtime’s Roadies series as well as CBS-TV’s The Late Show With David Letterman.
Following an unpleasant major-label experience early in her career, Atkins opted to go the crowd-funding route for her last two albums – 2014’s Slow Phaser and 2017’s Goodnight Rhonda Lee. Doing so enabled Atkins to record the albums as she wanted to and led to a pair of outstanding recordings.
Italian Ice, the fifth album from Atkins, will be released on May 29th.
The Who, Tommy
I was three years old, my folks were sleeping in and the movie Tommy was on HBO. I don’t remember what I did yesterday, but I can remember back to when I was very young. The music and the colors of the sets and costumes put me in a trance. This movie was on every morning for a time then, and I used to answer the door for the mailman singing Tina Turner’s “The Acid Queen.” Just hearing the first notes of the “Overture” can bring me to tears of joy.
Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die
In sixth grade, I went to the record store with my uncle to buy a New Kids on the Block tape so I could fit in with my friends. I told my uncle how I was kinda bummed because I didn’t really dig the New Kids, so he grabbed this Traffic tape and said, “Don’t waste your money. You’re buying this.” Traffic took my young mind on a trip. I could daydream into these songs. Steve Winwood had so much soul and the band was so cool.
Cruisin’ Classics (compilation)
This was a tape that my mom bought at the gas station and was playing in her van for probably 10 years. It had Jackie Wilson, Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Valli and Jay Black and the Americans on it. The van was always a dance party. I loved the dramatic way that Jay Black sang. I could get so lost in it.
The Sundays, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
Harriet Wheeler had the most innocent and bold voice. I’d never heard anything like it. I’d walk around with my Walkman and just be living in this album, wanting to be in a band and sing just like her.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Let Love In
Beautiful Darkness. The sad lounge piano coming in and out of thunderous drums and a voice singing wearily and ferociously at the same time. It scared me but I wanted to go wherever these songs wanted me to go.
James Brown, Live at the Apollo
I put this on and I felt like I was there. I’d lay on my floor, close my eyes and just see the whole show going down. So exciting and fast and powerful. You can’t get lost in this because James has you every step, note for note, telling the band and you what to do. P. T. Barnum of soul.
Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting
The first time I saw the video for “Joey” on MTV, I sat down in awe. I’d never heard a voice like hers. So low and soulful and intense. Breathtaking.
Jeff Buckley, Grace
Same here. Couldn’t sleep one night and this boy with an angel voice comes on TV wailing like I’ve never heard anyone do before. I went to my first guitar lesson that week and said, “Teach me ‘Last Goodbye,’ please.” The teacher said, "Thank God you’re not another kid coming in here to learn Metallica. Then the next week, I asked him to teach me “Master of Puppets.” Ha!
Television, Marquee Moon
In college, some guy kept talking about Television and Big Star, and I had never heard of these bands. I thought they had such cool simple names, so I went out and bought Marquee Moon. Marquee Moon starts up and gives you that feeling that something is gonna happen. You don’t know what but it’s gonna be something dark and magical. This band had two of the most singular guitar players in one band. When they played together, I envisioned sculptures and statues made of sound. Tall, twisty and indestructible.
Ween, White Pepper, Chocolate and Cheese
The great and mighty Ween. They can play anything they want. Everything is done with such high skill and way out there humor. Their records are my soul records.
Love, Da Capo
I want to add way more to this list, but I'll only go over by one. There’s a warmth in this record. Arthur Lee delivers such a direct and derelict vocal. They sounded like the wrong side of the carnival. The side where you might get mugged or have the best time of your life. I moved six times my first year in NYC and had a small suitcase of clothes, a guitar and a turntable and just this one Love record. Side B was also wonderful to fall asleep to.
Gram Parsons, Another Side of This Life: The Lost Recordings of Gram Parsons
Just Gram and a four track playing covers of Fred Neil songs and Buffy Sainte-Marie songs.
Big Star, Sister Lovers/Third
Big Star’s Sister Lovers took me somewhere I’d never been. Had me imagining romance under southern stars and shit kicking. I thought, I’m gonna start my own band and I want it to sound just like this.
The Beta Band, The Three EPs
So inventive and hypnotic and groovy.
Just makes me cry and feel like I have the biggest lungs in the world to breathe through the overture. It’s so powerful.
Lauren Hill, The Miseducation of Lauren Hill
This is a perfect album. You feel strong listening to it. She’s holding you through it. This album made me realize that when you make a record, it’s not for you. It’s for the audience. Looking to be held, told to be strong when they’re in doubt. Ya gotta lift people up. In sadness and in good times. Keep ‘em up.