Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017 Number 1 - Nicole Atkins' Goodnight Rhonda Lee

goodnight rhonda lee

I'm not one for cheesy nostalgia, but I'm a sucker for music that can recall a time and place while still being fresh and timeless. Whether it's music made in the period in question or just as an homage to that period, the songs have to feel alive. This is usually not achieved by accident. It takes work but the final element to make it successful is to make it seem like it didn't take work - like the music just sort of came together, spur of the moment. Nicole Atkins' Goodnight Rhonda Lee feels so immediate that it almost comes across as an improvisational jam session. If you didn't know any better, you could believe these songs are all covers, though you may not be able to pin down exactly where the original came from.

This is essentially a break-up album where the relationship is with one's former self. Rhonda Lee is Atkins' name for her alter ego when she was drinking. Knowing that, the album's title and lyrics all come into focus as a nakedly personal expression. The thing is, none of it comes across as being quite that literal or ever crosses the line into being wallowing or navel gazing. The fact is, you don't need to know what it's really about to enjoy it or get the more universal truths of the lyrics and the emotions behind them. Who can't relate to a line like "All that I have left is the sound of my own breath/And then darkness falls so quiet/But the loneliness can have it’s own allure/I can keep the quiet and keep myself inside/Cuz my records are old friends/I have trusted in them many times before" from "Darkness Falls so Quiet"?

This year has not been easy for many reasons. While protest and facing issues head on in more explicit ways through art is important, sometimes things that are not about the fight specifically can work just as well if not better. An album about changing, maturing and putting harmful things behind you is as important as one about fighting injustice. And personal growth is always welcomed. We can all hopefully learn to "Listen Up" when listening to Atkins sing "I should’ve listened up when I was young/But I always talked to much/Punch drunk on some bad luck/Hard times/You gotta make mistakes to know/It takes mistakes to grow/And now I know I gotta listen up." The reward for this personal growth is that we can "wake up from a nightmare to a dream" as the album's closer, "A Dream Without Pain" tells us. This final song is musically reminiscent of "Knockin on Heaven's Door" but instead of Dylan's weariness, it leaves us hopeful while we put the past behind us.

This summer, as hurricane Irma took aim on Florida, we made the decision to pack the family up and head out of town. The stressful trip had it's ups and downs, and it's no exaggeration to say that having Goodnight Rhonda Lee on repeat for most of the trip made it that much better. I wrote about this before, here. This album will always be special to me. That level of connection to music is why I started this blog in the first place and having an album that is also beautiful on it's own merits accomplish this is icing on the cake.


  1. I'm a total sucker for such kinda music myself and thats the best kind. Thank you for sharing this with all of us & I am surely going to be checking this out.

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