“May my path be lit up by the bridges that I’ve burned.”
That very revealing line surfaced near the end of Nicole Atkins’ hour-long pop odyssey Thursday night at The Burl. It hailed from “A Dream Without Pain,” a tune that not so coincidentally concludes the Jersey-bred songstress’ new “Goodnight Rhonda Lee” album, which hits stores today. Like many of Atkins’ best compositions, the narrative outlined an empowerment that comes with a hefty price tag. The same was true for the torchier Jersey requiem “Love Living Here (Even When I Don’t),” the more epically scaled “A Little Crazy” (where the cocktail of empowerment and pathos led to a grand vocal unleashing of Atkins’ inner Orbison) and the stately assertions of “Listen Up.”
All of these songs hailed from “Goodnight Rhonda Lee,” as did much of the hour-long set. While the audience turnout was meager, Atkins’ readings of these personality portraits, along with the glossary of pop melodies packaged with them (like the elegant “cha cha cha” strut of the record’s title tune), were inviting and arresting. A seemingly good-natured performer, she seemed unfazed by the lean attendance, choosing to ignite vocals of varying intensity with a natural ease and clarity. That was also true for older works like the soul-drenched “Cry Cry Cry” and the buoyantly desperate pop confection “Maybe Tonight.”
Atkins augmented her broadly American-sounding original material with a pair of curious European covers from 1972: Can’s “Vitamin C” (a healthy blast of psychedelia that sounded anything but retro) and David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” which ended the set with suitably continental splendor.
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Complimenting this very appealing show was a stellar opening set by Joslyn and the Sweet Compression, a Lexington unit centered around the fearless vocals of Joslyn Hampton and a five member band bearing the same instrumental make-up as a vintage R&B revue, right down to the two-man horn team. But original tunes like “If I Break It Down” and “Sunday Driver,” along with covers of vintage gems like Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop,” opened a groove bag that touched on soul, blues, reggae-fied rhythm, funk and more — a fine, engaging showcase by one of our own.