ACL Live Review: Nicole Atkins

Add another singular singer to the Asbury Park roll call

The first festival Nicole Atkins ever played was ACL Fest 2007, and the Asbury Park, NJ., native made a splash with a set that recalled her city’s most famous son, Bruce Springsteen. For her return early on the festival’s second Friday, Atkins began her BMI stage set evoking another of her hometown’s heroes: Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Augmenting her five-person band with a horn section borrowed from locals Mingo Fishtrap, the singer-songwriter rode the line between soul and rock on “Brokedown Luck,” exhibiting the same finesse as Johnny Lyons himself.

The song hails from her fourth album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, produced by Niles City Sound, who helmed Leon Bridges’ debut. From then on, she alternated between rocking R&B and her album’s other predominant style, a lush hybrid of Roy Orbison’s lovelorn drama, Dusty Springfield’s cool soul, and Charlie Rich’s late-night balladry.

The burning emotion of “A Little Crazy,” co-written by her “high school boyfriend Chris Isaak; he doesn’t know he was my boyfriend,” toughened up the lavishness without obscuring the overt romanticism at its core. Atkins took a detour with “Too Late,” a Bash & Pop track she co-wrote with Tommy Stinson and duetted in Austin with Midlake’s Eric Pulido.

In the main, she stuck to the album’s guns, getting the crowd moving with the funky “Sleepwalking” and bringing them to itheir knees with the bombastic “A Dream Without Pain.” It takes impressive skill to draw so earnestly from such old-fashioned sounds with fetishizing them, but Atkins has the heart, humor, and craft to pull it off.

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Nicole Atkins, ACL Fest 2018, ACL Music Fest 2018, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Johnny Lyons, Mingo Fishtrap, Niles City Sound, Roy Orbison, Dusty Springfield, Charlie Rich, Chris Isaak, Tommy Stinson, Midlake, Eric Pulido

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