An homage of sorts to a city most people know only from the aromatic oil refineries adjacent to its exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, “Elizabeth” has an appealing, homespun vibe that unexpectedly recalls 10,000 Maniacs from their early days. Front person Lily Mastrodimus, a New Jersey native, has a rich, Natalie Merchant-esque quality to her voice, and a knack for the half-introspective, half-rousing melodies Merchant delivered in her younger years.
And this is all about guitars, isn’t it? Rhythm guitars, jangly guitars, ringing guitars, this one has them all, and if no one wants this sound anymore, don’t tell Mastrodimus, who has crafted maybe not so much an homage to Elizabeth, New Jersey as to rock’n’roll itself. “Elizabeth” is based on one of rock’s sturdiest riffs, the I chord to the IV chord, but Mastrodimus and company play it all with casual affection, and proceed to bury their most prominent guitar motif underneath enough general jangle as to tease the ear with its melody instead of flaunting its stoutness (listen, for instance, at 0:33, or 1:23). I keep wanting to hear this phrase more clearly but then kind of like that it takes until 2:56 to fully emerge, as the song at this point slows down for a marvelously constructed coda, which converts what had been a sort of unaccountable second part of the song’s verse into a memorable finish.
“Elizabeth” is the second track on Will This Do?, the second full-length Long Neck album. (I like by the way the built-in ambiguity of how by appearances this looks to be a song about a person.) Long Neck began as Mastrodimus’s solo project, in 2014, but has become a full-fledged band. Check out the extensive discography (there are a bunch of EPs and singles) on Bandcamp, where you can also listen to and buy Will This Do?, which was released in January on Tiny Engines. MP3, again, via KEXP.
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.
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.