Usually, when it's time to preview a new album, a record label holds a listening session at a bar or restaurant, or, more often, invites journalists to their offices to hear the goods. Singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins, well, she throws a party on her roof.
Tuesday night, the New Jersey-bred songstress invited family, friends, and journalists to the roof of her Brooklyn apartment building, where she served food (including a pasta dish prepared by her sister!), told stories about Bruce Springsteen (they met and drank tequila at a Redbank, NJ, bar), and previewed her upcoming January release, Mondo Amore.
"Why not, right? My sister's a great cook and my roof is the shit! Just look!?!" the singer-songwriter told SPIN.com, gesturing to the expansive view of the Manhattan skyline. "It's a good ol' Atkins house party!"
Recorded just down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway at the Seaside Lounge Recording Studios, Mondo Amore expands Atkins' sound. "I've always been into psychedelic and blues music, like Traffic," she said of the 10-song album's new direction. "This is the record I've wanted to make since I was 12... I call it 'psychedelic crooner rock!'"
While the album has roots in Atkins' well-crafted pop swells, she experiments on tracks like "You Come to Me," a fast and furious psych-rock cannonball with distorted guitar, and "Cry, Cry, Cry," an R&B jam with a sing-along chorus -- I cry, cry, cry / I try, try, try! -- and a Hendrix-esque guitar solo.
"You Were the Devil" is a Flamenco-tinged number with fiddle, lap steel, and a sinister guitar solo that could be a contender as theme song for the next James Bond movie. Another highlight, "This is For Love," a dark ballad with a super catchy chorus -- "This is for love!!!" Atkins repeatedly shouts over a wall of guitar and violin.
The production -- courtesy of Phil Palazzolo (New Pornographers, TedLeo) -- is thick and cinematic, a nod to one of Atkins' influences,Phil Spector.
On "Hotel Plaster," a ballad with reverb guitar leads and piano, Atkins croons, "Hold on to our love / Think of me in a prison of hotel plaster, far from the shelter of your side / Hold on to our love." "War is Hell," a jazzy cabaret tune, swells with strings as Atkins pleads about "love, trust, anger, lust."
Love and heartbreak are a theme. "It's a demise of a relationship record," Atkins said, smirking in way that suggested that she didn't want to talk any more about the heartbreak that inspired it.
Like a good host, Atkins gave all her guests a parting gift (her new "Vultures" 7-inch single, including a B-side cover of the Can track "Vitamin C"). "I love living here," she said in the elevator on the way down to her apartment. "But now it's time to clean up!"