Apr 262012

Photo by Dan Burn-Forti

Nick Lowe’s 45-year career as a singer-songwriter, record producer, and all-around musical instigator is a one-man Village Green Preservation Society, to quote the Kinks’ 1968 mission statement. After brief spell in a Cream-influenced psychedelic rock band, Kippington Lodge, Lowe and his fellow UK mates, including future standouts in the late-’70s new wave scene, got an early start on “preserving the old ways” in the Americana roots-rock band, Brinsley Schwarz. A big push to launch the band in the States flamed spectacularly, and in the US their records would be left for music nerds to dig out of the far reaches of used record bins for the next decade.

In 1976, following the demise of the Brinsleys, he hooked up with veteran Welsh musician and producer Dave Edmunds and carved out a role for himself “protecting the new ways,” as house producer for fledgling punk/new wave label Stiff Records. His “So It Goes” b/w “Heart of the City” was the first single on Stiff, and it heralded the artist’s devil-may-care approach to writing subversive takes on AM Top 40 hits of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. His solo output at this time peaked with his second album, Labour of Lust, on which he was backed by Edmunds and fellow members of Rockpile. The single from that album, “Cruel to Be Kind,” with the shaggy video including scenes from his wedding to Carlene Carter, is the most vibrant expression of the new wave era’s cheerful sense of fatalism. He must have been a good fit for the June Carter-Johnny Cash clan.

As a producer, Lowe made his mark helping Elvis Costello & The Attractions craft a diverse, high-octane run of 5 straight albums in 5 years, including their unexpectedly sincere take on one of Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz-era hippie goofs, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Known as “The Basher,” for his no-nonsense approach to both work and play, Lowe wasn’t messing around, although frequently it just seemed that way.

By the mid-’80s, despite a few minor hits and continued successful production work, Lowe was losing his way. His records lost their snap. The jokes were growing stale. The snappiest of that run, 1990’s aptly named Party of One, was nevertheless the end of the line for Nick the Knife.

I suppose with my advancing age I’m not quite so interested in tricks in the studio, sort of wham-bam-thank-you-m’am.

A few years later, financially secure thanks to a Curtis Stigers cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” being included on the soundtrack to Whitney Houston’s schlock smash, The Bodyguard, a mature Nick emerged. He was done chasing pop stardom, done with dick jokes. He embraced his pop classicism on albums like Dig My Mood, The Convincer, and At My Age. His latest album, The Old Magic, goes even further in this vein, skirting the raunch of rock ‘n roll, soul, and country music for something more akin to early ‘60s dinner club pop balladeering. The new album has been a tougher sell for me than his last few gems, but Lowe’s craftsmanship and comfort in his own skin are impressive. Over the phone, Lowe was as warm, open, and engaging as his music might suggest. He made a couple of mentions of the thrill of meeting and playing with one of his own heroes, the recently deceased Levon Helm, and his new musical friends, Wilco. A thrill’s a thrill, whether it’s the thrill of looking backward or the thrill of looking ahead.

RTH: I was looking at your tour schedule and was saddened to see that this coming Saturday you were supposed to play a Midnight Ramble show with Levon Helm. I know you’d appeared with him on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, which I didn’t get to see. Had you met Levon before, say in the Brinsley Schwarz days?

NICK LOWE: Yes, I sure did. The Brinsleys had a house just outside of London., where we all used to live together. One day some people phoned up and said the Band, who were doing a big show at Wembley, in 1972 or ‘73, needed a place to rehearse. These people said, “Can they come out to your house and rehearse?”

They hadn’t played for a while. We just couldn’t believe it, we were such big fans. Anyway, they all turned up, they played on our equipment, you know, ran once through what they were going to do on the show, and off they went again. I might have said, “Hello.” It was a huge thrill.

RTH: When you played with Levon on Spectacle was that the only time you’d performed with him? Continue reading »

Jan 272012

Wow, here’s an oldie-but-goodie, first posted almost 5 years to the day, that many of our current daily participants have not had a crack at. This thread is so old that Wilco has had time to change its chemistry at least one more time. Enjoy.

This post initially appeared 1/28/07.

Changes in band chemistry need not ruin a band’s sound, but they will alter it greatly – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, sometimes for something just as good and interesting as the orginal but…different. Today, I’m most concerned with the first and last categories. We need not spend much time on the “for worse” category. Remember, this is a site to which fans on Ron Wood-era Stones need not apply.
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Dec 152011

In revisiting past record reviews I’ve had published on Wilco albums through the years only one failed to capture my attention for more than a few minutes, my least favorite Wilco album, Sky Blue Sky. I’ve got to give it to the band for their consistency. I’ll leave it to you to give it to me for my own. Following is a review of Yankee Foxtrot Hotel that appeared on a now long-defunct music blog that’s better left forgotten.

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Dec 082011

Although I’ve never been a full-blown fan of the band, I’ve made a habit of keeping up with each new Wilco release, buying about two thirds of their albums over the years. The band’s latest album, The Whole Love, has been in my rotation the last month.  It’s my favorite album by them since Summerteeth. That doesn’t mean I like it without reservations and anxieties that a man my age should not experience over a rock ‘n roll album. But I do, and you know I will share.

In the coming days I will revisit some of the band’s earlier releases, pulling out my original reviews at the time of their release. I hope you find the development in my views on the band enlightening, but let’s start in the present tense…after the jump

Mar 202007

If you don’t have it yet or haven’t found another place to check out Wilco’s latest, Sky Blue Sky, you can listen to a streaming version here. As you listen along, I’ll provide the thoughts inside your head.

The opening number, “Either Way”, is a tasty, mellow nugget, isn’t it? They don’t make cascading guitar solos like the one in this song any more – or they didn’t until now. What more can I say – what more can you say? Fine opener!

“You Are My Face” worried me for a minute. I thought they were opening their album with two mellow songs, which is OK if you’re someone else, but you and I like a little fire within the first 8 minutes of a new album. Sure enough, a spark is struck about a minute and a half into this bad boy, when a patented Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere guitar tone shows up and Tweedy and the rhythm section pick up the next verse as if under the direction of Rick Danko. Bring us down, faux Garth, and suddenly we’ve got Simon & Garfunkel doing the quiet verse from “The Boxer”. Now, take us out Garth-like organ player.

“Impossible Germany” is not pleasing us from the git-go. It sounds like some mush that might have come out of our radio circa 1975. I keep waiting for Mickey Thomas to take over the leads for a verse. Do I have time to grow my pinky nail longer, so I can do coke off it? Ooooh, check out Craig Chaquito on lead guitar! And here’s more. I feel a summer breeze. I hope these guys had shit-eating grins while recording this one.
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