A decade ago, Columbia Records started looking for a male singer-songwriter to define the next generation, going through Wood, Pete Yorn and others before hitting upon John Mayer. Currently, the label is recording a big-voiced females, a rock equivalent of k.d. lang. In Nicole Atkins, they have secured the services of someone whose voice is remarkably similar to another one of their young acts, Brandi Carlile, but whose musical sensibilities are far wackier.
Both take songs out into Roy Orbison terrain and on the dramatic title track of her album, Atkins succeeds in creating a haunting ballad embellished with a vibrato-heavy deep-toned guitar. A native of Neptune, N.J., Atkins offers a bit of playfulness, like an early ’60s girl group singer, and a talent for floating her songs over intriguing collections of carnival sounds.