Nicole Atkins (photo by BarbaraFG, PR)
Single Lock Records
Over the past 13 years, Nicole Atkins has carved out her own niche in a next wave of New Jersey rockers. On her fifth album, Italian Ice, she captures the beguiling charm, mysterious allure, and plucky spirit of the Jersey shore, where she was born and bred in Neptune.
“The whole point of this album was to try and cheer myself up," Atkins told FUV in her recent Quarantined Artists Q&A. "Nothing makes me feel better than the shore and the boardwalk in the summertime. It was my goal with the album's sound to give everyone who listens a transportive experience, so they could feel like they were there in Asbury Park or Point Pleasant beach having a romantic and memorable moment."
Italian Ice was produced by Atkins and Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes, and was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Her band was full of heavyweights: Muscle Shoals rhythm section legends Spooner Oldham and David Hood (who is also the father of Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood); the Dap-Kings' Binky Griptite (the host of WFUV’s “The Boogie Down”); Jim Sclavunos and Dave Sherman, both of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds; and McKenzie Smith. In addition, Atkins recruited friends like Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Seth Avett, Erin Rae, and John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars.
Despite the album’s general focus on the Jersey shore, not every moment on Italian Ice is centered there. Atkins addresses society’s ills and global warming in the richly soulful “AM Gold.” Matters of the heart come to the fore in “Captain,” written by Atkins and Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket and touched with a hint of Electric Light Orchestra.
On the flip side, “A Road To Nowhere” recounts a decaying relationship ("Thank you for the good times we’ve had in the past/But we both know enough to know good things don’t last“). "Never Going Home Again,” written by Atkins, Sclavunos and Daniel, is a country tune that twists together numerous stories of life on the road for Atkins and her friends.
At various junctures on Italian Ice, Atkins calls on her understanding and appreciation of the sixties girl groups that were a major part of rock and roll’s formative years. This is evident in the soaring wall of sound in a trio of tunes: “These Old Roses,” "In the Splinters," and “St. Dymphna,” the latter which recalls an older song, “The Way It Is,” from Atkins' 2007 debut, Neptune City. In fact, “In The Splinters,” written by Atkins and ex-Walkmen Hamilton Leithauser, poignantly ends the album by reflecting on the post-Hurricane Sandy hardships that were inflicted upon the Jersey shore.
Atkins also takes the opportunity to celebrate the region’s unified response to the disaster and the triumphant recovery. Italian Ice is an album of positivity and celebration that also acknowledges life’s tough realities, not unlike the way many would describe New Jersey. It’s an album with heart and a lot of soul.