Good Stuff from Nicole Atkins and Janet LaBelle

by delarue

Nicole Atkins has a nice, raw live soundboard recording from a show this year at the Music Hall of Williamsburg up at her bandcamp as a free download. Called …Till Dawn, it’s an enticement: try this for free, you’ll like it, buy the rest! See the show! And why not, this stuff is excellent. Those who don’t know Atkins may assume she’s a singer-songwriter, but this rocks, hard. The first track, This Is for Love, is sort of Lucinda Williams for a younger audience, starting out lurid with reverb-drenched slide guitar from Irina Yalkowsky (who is the absolute star of this whole thing), then turning into a big anthem, with some nice, vicious white-noise swells. You Come to Me sets biting, desperate 80s lead guitar over a fast ska bassline and a staggering bridge that jumps out of nowhere and then retreats as the guitar scorches in again. The down-and-out scenario Hotel Plaster sets Atkins’ shivery vintage Dolly Parton vocals to a reverberating Nashville noir tune. “This next song is about punching a bitch in the face,” Atkins tells the crowd and follows with My Baby Don’t Lie, a country shuffle done with a big, roaring Stonesy edge and a crazy solo slide guitar break. She ends the ep with an absolutely titanic, deliciously intense version of The Tower, the slowly swaying, funereal epic that closes her Mondo Amore album from this past spring. “We finally know why they call the dawn the mourning,” Atkins wails woundedly, Yalkowsky drawing roars of appreciation for her crazed chord-chopping solo that all of a sudden goes somber and bluesy. Atkins is at Symphony Space on Dec 8.

Where Atkins uses vintage 60s country as a stepping-off point, Janet LaBelle uses vintage 60s soul. Her most recent release, Moon Songs, is also up at her bandcamp. As with Atkins, it’s full of neat, unexpected flourishes. For instance, the opening track, The Moon is Ours shifts without warning from a pretty, jangly country vibe to a Do the Locomotion groove. Somehow they get a nice, full sound from just vocals, acoustic and electric guitar and a little percussion. The ridiculously catchy highway rock anthem Not Tonight is the best song here: as she does throughout the album, LaBelle’s full-throttle wail evokes Patricia Vonne with a little less angst: “I will get it right on the second try,” she insists.

The rest of the album is oldschool soul, for the most part, anyway. Apologies, a big, Aretha-style ballad swoops down into trip-hop on the chorus, while the big soul/gospel anthem Without You, a showcase for LaBelle’s lower register, also hits a trip-hop groove once the chorus kicks in. The last song is happy, catchy 60s Memphis pop done simply and elegantly with just acoustic guitars and vocals.