You can’t go home again, Thomas Wolfe once declared. But Nicole Atkins would respectfully like to disagree.
Four years ago, the gossamer-voiced warbler was on a roll with a stunning debut disc, “Neptune City,” meticulously tracked in Sweden with ace producer Tore Johansson, then fine-tuned by her new label honcho himself, Columbia Records’ Rick Rubin.
One covers EP later (“Nicole Atkins Digs Other People’s Songs”), and things started going wrong.
Atkins’ trusty backing combo The Sea splintered. The New Jersey native — who appears in San Francsico on Tuesday, backing her comeback, “Mondo Amore” — was then unceremoniously dumped by her imprint, the same week she broke up with her longtime beau.
“It was dark,” she says of her period of depression. “I’d actually kind of lost track of why I was doing this, and I kept asking myself ‘Why? Why is my life going this way?’”
Atkins arrived at a solution, but it wasn’t pretty.
She gave up her hip New York apartment and moved in with her folks for a few months. “I actually went back into my childhood bedroom, and I started writing songs again in the same spot in my bedroom where I’d first started writing them,” she says. “And in order to not feel totally terrible about myself, I just started working really hard on this record. And for the first time in my life, my parents didn’t mess with me at all — they were like ‘OK — we’re going to let her do what she has to do and not mention it.’”
Viewing “Mondo” dirges like “Vultures,” “Cry Cry Cry” and “You Were The Devil” as a whole, Atkins now makes an easy assessment: “This is definitely my big, horrible relationship record,” she says.
But it brought out the best in her, and in everyone around her, as well. One friend offered her free studio time.
“And my parents’ next-door neighbor was a drummer that I grew up with,” she says. “So he and a bunch of my hometown friends rallied and said, ‘We’ll be your band!’”
Angels abounded. Some wealthy family acquaintances in New York insisted that Atkins move out of her parents’ and offered to chip in on rent. “They said, ‘You need to move back to New York, because if you feel successful, you’ll be successful,’” she says. “And they were right.”
Now, Atkins has a new band — The Black Sea — and a renewed sense of purpose. “All of this has made me appreciate everything that I had to begin with that much more,” she says. “So now I don’t take anything for granted.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Café Du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 861-5016; www.ticketweb.com