Fitting that consummate Englishman Nick Lowe has signed with Yep Roc Records of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as The Convincer continues his trend of making Southern-sounding records. Lowe's material is set against a moving panorama of Dixie styles, from Muscle Shoals soul to gospel to honky-tonk, with perhaps Geraint Watkins' tasteful organ fills tipping the balance ultimately toward soul. All of it sounds as if it were recorded in 1965, and the ghost of Texas-bred genre-bender Ivory Joe Hunter is ever-present.
That the cover pictures a dapper, silver-haired, sartorially splendored Lowe smoking a cigarette and looking for all the world like a Tory backbencher (or, for that matter, like the RAF officer who fathered him) is somewhat jarring when set next to the mildly rednecked music on the disc. Yet in the gentle, reserved and elegiac play of his band (especially flawless guitarist Steve Donnelly), there is something inimitably English.
Then there are the lyrics, which wear ugly emotions like grief, regret and anger as a second skin. Even the redemptive songs like "She's Got Soul" play as mere prefaces to downfalls like "Cupid Must Be Angry," "Lately I've Let Things Slide" and "I'm a Mess," in which Lowe's vocal phrasing strongly recalls that of Freddy Fender. As always, Lowe's wit is as sharp as a razor. Take these lines from the Rubber Soul-ish honky-tonker "Has She Got a Friend?" in which Lowe sarcastically sings: "I'm so glad to hear about/The true happiness you've found/And how your wretched life/Has been turned around."
Gone almost completely -- and this is apparent from the first song to the last -- is the occasionally happy-go-lucky Lowe of the '70s and '80s. The opening track finds Lowe barraging a fateful temptress with salvos like "No one can wreck a home better than you/And I should know 'cause I'm a homeless man/All down to you . . . homewrecker."
Lowe's singing is tasteful yet limited. He occasionally lacks the chops to pull off his own material, especially evident here on "Bygones (Won't Go)," and to his credit he knows it. This tune cries out for the majestic pipes of, say, George Jones, or someone else who can really deliver the payloads that Lowe has written. Not to say Lowe is a bad singer, but his writing at times outstrips his vocal abilities.
Ultimately, this is a record for going to pieces in the grand Errol Flynn or Peter O'Toole manner, an album for solitary wee-hours gin-tippling, a perfect platter to wile away the eternity, as Lowe sings, "Between dark and dawn, when there's nothing going on."
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