Friday, September 15, 2017

On The Run With Rhonda Lee

goodnight rhonda lee

Last week we packed up the family and headed out of dodge to avoid hurricane Irma. Driving out of Florida was like something out of Children of Men, with a trip to Atlanta which normally should have taken 9 hours, taking exactly 22 hours and most of our sanity. None the less, once we were out, while the hassles and stresses continued, we were instantly calmed by mountains and winding roads through the deep south. We spent a night in Atlanta, a couple nights in Nashville, a couple more in Knoxville with many little pit stops in between. Sure, at most stops north of Orlando, I would look around in a panic until I saw at least one person of color before almost loudly sighing in relief, but still there's a lot to love about The South. We encountered many very nice people all over the place. At a lunch stop in Chattanooga we went to The Terminal Brewhouse where the parking attendant let us park for free on seeing our Florida tag. The food and beer was amazing there, by the way. I can't wait to go back as soon as I can.

All this driving meant time to listen to music. At some point, I'll have to really dig in and make a list of the best road albums, but this trip there was one album in particular I kept going back to and which I'm already predicting will still be my favorite album of the year when it's over: Nicole Atkins' Goodnight Rhonda Lee. I'd already been listening to this before last week, with my love for it increasing with each passing month since its release back in July, but after this week it has jumped to a whole new level for me. This is truly a masterpiece of an album.

Nicole Atkins has been putting out great music for at least 12 years, all of it soulful and demonstrating a love for classic soul, R&B, country and rock while still maintaining a fresh feel - it's never been "retro" just for the sake of it. But on Goodnight Rhonda Lee it's like she leaned way into these styles and let her love for the artists and sounds that inspire her come out completely through her song writing and performance from the inside out. She dug into what makes her influences tick and then mastered it in her own way. These songs are somehow meticulously crafted in a way that makes them sound effortless. It's like these songs always existed (or at least since about 1975 or so) and she sort of plucked them out of some parallel universe that was waiting for her, this band and this production team, specifically, to record them for the first time. The result can only be called timeless. It's of today as much as it is of yesterday and the future (I hope the future, because more of this would be amazing).

There isn't a single song on here that is less than stellar and the production is exactly my favorite kind, putting you in the room and giving it all a live feel. The band is loose but clearly made up of amazing players who know how to swing and create the right pockets for it all to breathe. It's funky and real from start to finish. The word that comes to mind is organic. Atkins has a voice that can reach amazing powerful heights, but her true talent is that she knows how to control it so well. Her voice goes from soft to beyond the moon like a tidal wave, calling to mind greats like Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison among others, but always uniquely her. There's a vulnerability in every note, that's compelling as fuck but that vulnerability comes with confidence and fearlessness and that effortlessness that I mentioned before.

I could go song by song, but instead I'll give you a couple stories. At one point, I was playing the album and Shayera (my 8 year old) calls from the back seat with a song request. I barely heard her and got kind of upset because I was into the album and said "NO! Right now, I want to listen to this album all the way through!" Only to realize her request was for "Goodnight Rhonda Lee," which was the very next song to play. Later, Zoey (my 4 year old) requested "the walking song" which is actually "A Little Crazy," the first song on the album that she sings along to every time. So, yeah, my girls have good taste.

I'm sure I'll be writing a more in depth take on this at the end of the year. Until then, do yourself a favor and listen to this over and over again. It's that damn good. Also, check out this Audiotree session she did a few weeks ago. Damn, I need to see her live.


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