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Album review: Nicole Atkins' 'Mondo Amore'

February 8, 2011 |  3:55 pm

Nicoleatkins.jjpg Nicole Atkins is the kind of classic pop singer who could have been a megastar at any point except the last five years. She has a huge, rangy voice flecked with soul that sounds great atop broken-bottle slide blues (“My Baby Don’t Lie”), wine-sloppy piano ballads (“Hotel Plaster”) and even an unexpected stab at X-inspired surf punk (“You Come to Me”).

Maybe the handmade breadth and skill of “Mondo Amore” can catch a commercial slow burn like that of her onetime tourmates the Black Keys. But it’s rough out there for a firecracker female singer for whom Auto-Tune is merely what you do to your pink Cadillac every 3,000 miles.

Neko Case is probably the best reference point here, and Atkins’ band nails the same kind of grain-silo reverb and guitar tremolo that give tunes such as “This Is for Love” their weight. But she’s at her best atop the tear-blotted strings of “War Is Hell,” which give her room to sing for the rafters and bend the song into unexpected chord changes. There isn’t a clear standout single, but “Mondo” is sturdy, well-arranged pop that old crooners and hipster blues brothers alike can claim as theirs.

-- August Brown

Nicole Atkins
"Mondo Amore"
Razor & Tie
Two and a half stars (out of four)