SXSW Music Review: Nicole Atkins/Erin Rae
The new Nashville sound
By Doug Freeman,
11:55AM, Sat. Mar. 16, 2019
“I wrote a song about how much modern Nashville country music sucks,” said Nicole Atkins before leading the crowd in a sing-along of “As Country Was,” John Paul White jumping onstage for the chorus. It proved an apt anthem for Single Lock Records’ Friday night showcase at Cooper’s BBQ, the Alabama imprint co-founded by White rostering a new Nashville sound.
Atkins found musical rejuvenation after getting sober and unloading 2017’s sublime LP Goodnight Rhonda Lee, which unleashed her impressive vocals into a soulful throwback sound. Introducing the album’s title track, she noted, “This is a song I wrote for a really drunken friend of mine. It was me, two years ago.”
The New Jersey native’s vocal range swelled as she worked solo through “Sleepwalking” and a stripped down “Cry Cry Cry.” Closing with her Chris Isaak co-write “A Little Crazy” and a stunning take on Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” Atkins’ voice emerged every bit as wondrous as those influences.
Erin Rae likewise lifted a soulful Southern sound with last year’s debut Putting on Airs, country ballads walking the line between Dusty Springfield and Shelby Lynn. Her backing fourpiece provided a rich but ambient fullness to the soft sway of her songs that swooned through sharply simple lines like, “You’re drawn to the night like a june bug.” Standout tunes like “Wild Blue Wind” marked a perfect balance of polished songcraft, patiently unfolding melodies, and wistful vocals that shine with promise for Rae and Nashville.