In the past, Nicole Atkins has parked her big voice inside of songs sparkling with ’60s pop sheen—a little bit girl group, a little bit Brill Building—and boy it fit like a glove. This time she’s moved up a decade or so and has gotten in touch with her inner Robert Plant. This fits like a glove too. Like I said, she’s got a big voice.
But—and this is key—she knows how to contain it. “Vultures” starts in slinky mode, all suggestion and minor key. And don’t miss by the way that great, tremulous, unresolved guitar chord that launches the song at :05; that tells you a lot about where we’re going here. If you listen closely, you’ll detect Atkins’ trademark vibrato, but she isn’t showing off. The drums hit louder than she does, at first. The lead guitar makes itself known. She lets herself be lost within gang-style vocals. She sings, “I can disappear/From who I’d like to be.” She sings a line we’ve heard before, “Take all they can get,” in a near whisper at 2:26. Then, a change. She repeats the line right away, at 2:32. She’s singing much louder, with almost instantaneous abandon; now, after all that set-up, my goodness listen to that. There’s an other-worldly force to the vocal energy unleashed here. That’s kind of where the Plant comparison comes in. I’m especially fascinated by the way she controls her vibrato, dialing it up and down like volume but with its own logic, independent of volume. Nicole Atkins has a big voice but is much more than a voice—she is a powerful singer, and a unique presence on the 21st-century rock scene.
“Vultures” is the first song available from the album Mondo Amore, Atkins’ second full-length release, which will be out in January on Razor & Tie. MP3 via Razor & Tie. This is by the way the third time that the New Jersey born and bred singer/songwriter has been featured on Fingertips, dating back to 2005.