September 10, 2018
When most Charlotteans hear the last name Atkins, they think of the talented Jason Atkins who, among having his hand in multiple bands around town, plays the famed organ for the Charlotte Checkers. Now, Jason’s daughter Maya Beth hits the scene with her debut album, Whatever You Are.
Atkins (referring to Maya Beth from here on out) has been playing and performing for years, beginning at the ripe age of 12. The singer-songwriter is compelling when playing live, hushing entire rooms with her thoughtful chords and strong voice. Atkins called on some of the best veterans in Charlotte to add their special experience to the mix, such as Mike Kenerley (Jolene, Loudermilks), Shawn Lynch (Mitch Easter, Eyebrows, Loudermilks), D.K. (Come On Thunderchild, Mike Strauss Band), Dan Hood (Blue Dogs), and her father.
Whatever You Are is a remarkable collection of ten original songs, spanning the tricky emotional landscape of growing up and trying to find your footing in this world. The lyrics display an understanding and graciousness that tug at the listener’s soul. The songs are delicately heartsick at times, ferocious at others, capable of both glaring side-eyes and patient compassion.
The album starts off with “Revolver,” a simple and affecting song reflecting the story of an artist and her guitar trying to make sense of their space in time. The song croons about lost love while understanding that its lucky love was ever there at all. What is striking about this album is the imagery and coherent concepts seeping throughout. For instance, Atkins flexes her Carolinian roots on “Kinda Blue” by painting a classic Appalachian folk scene. She uses the moodiness of colors, distant thundering stomps of bass, and descending progressions to lower the coffin of a sentimental memory into the cool dirt, gone from her once and for all. Alluding to the spooky trend of talented artists dying at 27 years old, “27 Club” displays Atkins’ startling comprehension of mortality. Nearly screaming over heavy, angst-ridden strumming guitar, she belts: “stars they only shine when they’re high up in the heavens, it only hurts for a second.”
Halfway through the album, “Elijah” scales all instrumentation back and we’re left with Atkins’ solitary, haunted voice heavy enough to stop the listener in their tracks. Boisterous and careening “Don’t Ask (Don’t Tell)” employs speeding guitar solos and a true rock star attitude from Atkins as she laughs over the reckless raised hell she’s created. “Taxidermy” is also a standout track from the album. It’s simple, idling like an old engine, and ends the album just as everything started: an artist and her guitar. It’s a sweeping, poignant song capturing the fleeting era of youth as Atkins sings about growing up, trying to put aging in a perspective she can hold and flip around in her hand. Her miseries and apprehensions are summed up in the beautiful line, “I wish I could I take whatever could hurt me and keep it forever like taxidermy.”
The album isn’t just a singer-songwriter release. The collection of songs easily recalls influences of swampy blues, smoky rock’n’roll, and the realized suspension of late nights spent thinking far too much. The album is vibrant, gritty and full of clarity.