Nicole Atkins: Italian Ice

Atkins describes Italian Ice as an “acid trip through my record collection”; the album is certainly distinctive due to its range of styles, from symphonic pop to garage punk. Dedicated to “rock n roll and the future”, it’s generally an uplifting collection of songs, two of which were written solely by Atkins (“AM Gold” and “Far From Home”), seven co-written with different individuals, including Spoon’s Britt Daniel (“These Old Roses”), with one cover (Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “A Road to Nowhere”).

Italian Ice is a reference to the frozen treat sold on the Jersey Shore boardwalk of Atkins’ childhood, alluded to as the “garbage of Eden” in the smooth soul of “AM Gold”, and elsewhere throughout the album – on the multi-layered “Mind Eraser when “surfing through a frozen wave, dunes piled high””, and where “your initials, dark and red” are scratched into the boardwalk in ballpoint pen on the idiosyncratic singalong of “In The Splinters”.

The sessions for the album were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and five other locations with a group of Atkins’ “best musical friends”, a notable bunch including David “Moose” Sherman (piano and musical director) and Jim Sclavunos (percussion and vibes) both of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Binky Griptite (guitar) of The Dap-Kings, McKenzie Smith (drums) of St. Vincent/Midlake, and Spooner Oldham (organ, Wurlitzer) and David Hood (bass) of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Atkins co-produced with Ben Tanner and arranged the strings. There are five credited backing vocalists (Stephanie Hunt, Kelsey Wilson, Kam Franklin, Taylor Nicks and Stephen Warwick), indicating the scale of Atkins’ artistic vision for the record.

There are many highlights; immediately the groovy disco of “Domino” and the upbeat and catchy “Forever”. The album also excels when Atkins stretches out on her vocal – on the sensual “Far From Home”, the grand, orchestral “These Old Roses”, and the spirited “St. Dymphna”. Atkins puts in some distinguished performances; the cover of “A Road to Nowhere” is suitably dramatic; “Captain” (with Britt Daniel) is sultry and glamorous; “Never Going Home Again”, featuring Seth Avett, John Paul White and Erin Rae, sounds like a tribute to Bobby Gentry or The Mamas And The Papas, and evokes the drama of a drinking life, waking up half-dead in a “Hello Kitty” bed”, “not proud” of the behaviour.

Atkins suggests on “AM Gold” that we’re not going to find life “on a screen”, and Italian Ice is a good reminder to enjoy a non-digital life – whether outdoors on the beach, on the boardwalk, or strutting down a city pavement in disco shoes.

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Label: Single Lock Records
Release Date: 29 MAY 2020