Europe right now is toiling under an oppressive, record-melting heatwave. Ireland is feeling the heat too. Why, last week the Irish media, in the sort of hysterically quaint headline that used to have my sullen Parisian students almost cracking a smile, warned us that temperatures would soar to a “scorching” 28 degrees. I tell you, that was one hellish 90 minutes of Irish summer we had last week.
It wasn’t so long ago (well, a year and a half) that I was clambering over banks of snow to get to the only local supermarket selling fresh bread. It being an actual “winter” for a change, rather than our usual season of drizzle, was scant consolation for me and countless others, forced to stay home from work and play because of snow that a passing Canadian might have called frost.
One person more discommoded than most in that Irish ice age was an American singer called Nicole Atkins. Having sailed into Dublin from England because Dublin Airport was closed, then discovering that no buses or trains were running due to the snow, she found her concert that night was cancelled. I believe she and her band went into a nearby pub and played a few songs there.
I had eagerly bought tickets for that concert the day they went on sale. I’m a big fan. There was no concert and I couldn’t get into town for the improvised session either, but I wasn’t as devastated as I might otherwise have been. For one thing, I had been at a Nicole Atkins gig just a few months earlier — in New York, seeing as you asked. I had booked a trip to NY, then a few weeks beforehand I trawled the local music listings and found to my delight than she was the opening act of the double-bill at a small venue in Brooklyn on my first night there. And it was an excellent show. (The other act was alright but I wasn’t paying attention and I had to leave during their set to catch a train from Brooklyn back to Manhattan. Did I mention I was in New York?)
Also, I was kind of glad that no other Irish people got to see Nicole Atkins that snowbound Dublin night. You see, I know no one else who likes her or has even heard of her, and the indie kid in me still gets a kick out of having a ‘secret’ band or singer all to myself, as it were.
This isn’t for the want of my trying to spread the word or convert the masses, you understand. I’ve put a particular song of hers on countless mix CDs I’ve given to friends and exes. (It’s hardly a coincidence that they only became exes after I gave them the song.) I’ve posted that song on my social media. I even mentioned it in articles back when I was writing about music. But no one has ever favourited, liked, commented or even asked me about it, which just goes to show it was a complete waste of time making mix CDs for any of you, though I’m not bitter.
I can’t claim to be the only Nicole Atkins fan in the world, though. For one thing, that New York show had a good turnout, though not quite filling the hall. (It was midweek and the weather was bad: rain, not snow.) Also, a writer for French magazine Les Inrockuptibles gave a rave notice to her 2007 album Neptune City — I read that review one Saturday morning, then a few hours later saw that very album in the ‘new’ rack of the music section of my local library. (This was in Paris, where I was living at the time. Nicole Atkins and me is a high-flying, jet-setting story, apart from the bit where Dublin Airport is shut down due to snow.)
Curiosity primed and detonated, I borrowed that album and I loved it. The albums that Atkins loves are, I’d hazard a guess, all manner of Americana from soulful pop to country to Southern rock, each jutting out of her songs like shards of coloured glass catching the light.
Her selling point, though, is her fantastic voice — a dark, rumbling thing that can suddenly rip open like thunder, then just as quickly quell itself again. One song in particular on Neptune City showcases Atkins’ singing power. It’s a heart-stopping epic with a phenomenal chorus, it’s called ‘The Way It Is’ and it’s the very song I’ve been putting on mix CDs all these years. No, it wasn’t a hit. I didn’t even get to see her in concert at the time.
Funnily enough, at that now-legendary (i.e. I was there and you weren’t) Brooklyn show Atkins didn’t do ‘The Way It Is’ and, where normally I’d be raging if an act omitted the track of theirs I loved most, I didn’t mind at all. Again, just like that cancelled Dublin concert, maybe I prefer having that wonderful song all to myself. It helped that the new album she was promoting, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, was excellent: an extra dash of Southern-fried boogie in the mixture but still as velvety and Gothic as Neptune City.
Should I even be writing about ‘The Way It Is’ again, sharing it again, letting in daylight upon magic again? Well, my mix CD experience tells me you don’t know a good thing when you hear it and I doubt you’ve even read this far anyway. (Not bitter.) So, this is one of my favourite songs ever, from one of my favourite albums ever, by one of my favourite singers ever, and it’s all for me:
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