Nick Lowe’s Discography Still Shines (VINTAGE STASH)

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So it goes!?…Who would’ve thought the smart-ass purveyor of pure pop for now people would go on to an extended career that would morph into something of a musicological expedition? Nick Lowe produced the earliest recordings of both Elvis Costello and Graham Parker and, with his longtime partner, the great Dave Edmunds, formed Rockpile, one of the finest pure rock and roll bands ever (aside from Brinsley Schwarz, the most famous proponents of so-called pub-rock). Lowe didn’t depart the commercial craft of his hit “Cruel to Be Kind” for this string of uniformly listenable albums, he just didn’t find the same mainstream success. No matter, he continued his deceptively lighthearted pursuits, six of which have been reissued in expanded form: unfortunately bereft of any liner notes outside of the necessary credits, no vintage photos to speak of or even a nominal range of bonus cuts, these titles posit the one-time ‘Jesus of Cool” as a preservationist of rock and roll’s roots, not to mention one of its most artful dodgers: his burglary of another artist’s musical ideas–outside respectful covers of John Hiatt like that of John Hiatt–he can make a music lover smile.

Nick the Knife: Nick Lowe’s recording career unfolded from the wide-ranging stylistic template of his first solo album, alternately titled Pure Pop for Now People and Jesus of Cool. Yet not all these reissues follow wholly in the footsteps of the expanded edition of that debut: each one is remastered from the original master tapes to greater or lesser effect (considering sonic fidelity was not one of Lowe’s priorities except to highlight his own bass playing), but not all include bonus tracks. There are three here, two of which are demos of official tracks, but all of them benefit from a certain informality because Nick Lowe sounds his most sincere earliest in the recording process.

The Abominable Showman: A most apropos title for arguably any Nick Lowe album, the moniker of this record applies equally applicable to the man himself for his often transparent steals from other artists, here ranging from Creedence Clearwater’s to Marshall Crenshaw to Elvis Costello himself. Outright forgeries aside, the zest with which he writes and records is wholly infectious, especially on these two bonus tracks, both of which are live: “Crackin Up” and (“What’s So Funny “Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.” While they, like the studio tracks, sound like they’re produced more for fun than profundity, this deceptively offhanded approach may explain why no historical content appears on these reissues: Nick Lowe only takes his work seriously up to a point.

Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit: It’s fitting Nick Lowe eventually assigned a name to his backing band as he did here (with typical tongue-in-cheek) because the real weight of his recordings lie in their tasteful yet earthy musicianship. Here, as he did more than once throughout his discography, Lowe employed the more than serviceably talented likes of vocalist/keyboardist Paul Carrack (once of Ace and currently in Eric Clapton’s employ), while Billy Bremner, the guitarist of Rockpile, would appear alongside Martin Belmont from The Rumour, GP’s backing band on his earliest (and latest) albums. It’s in keeping with Lowe’s preference for eclecticism that the country allusions of this record’s title become overt only in one bonus cut “Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor.”

The Rose of England: Little wonder the title of this record drips with such a sardonic attitude. Nick Lowe’s records shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than the author does, but he doesn’t give short shrift to his accompaniment at any time. As with most, if not all, Lowe’s albums, the short, sharp tracks come and go in quick succession, which is all to their individual benefit and that of the long-players(sic) themselves: taken together this progression of a dozen tracks, including most conspicuously the aforementioned Edmunds’ “I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll),” crystallizes into a deceptive uniformity the bandleader’s varied interests might not otherwise allow (at least on the surface).

Pinker And Prouder Than Previous: The absence of extra cuts is downright distracting on this eleven cut album running around thirty-five minutes, rendering the work even more slight than it actually is. Perhaps legalities preclude more culls from the vault of the BBC or Montreux Festivals, from whence came live recordings of Rockpile, but the absence of any liner notes is equally problematic: surely Lowe himself could dash off some quick remembrances of the albums in question or, failing that, both of his early producees. Costello and Parker have proven sufficiently verbose they could produce enough copy to fill just one side of a CD digi-pak with the font size adjusted accordingly.

Party of One: Employment of Dave Edmunds to produce this album belies its title, as does a stellar cast of sidemen ranging from drummer Jim Keltner to guitarist extraordinaire Ry Cooder and jazz bassist nonpareil Ray Brown. Nick Lowe’s abiding belief in both pop music’s charm and rock’s roots compels thorough listening throughout all fifteen tracks here, even if just to fully appreciate the stylish accompaniment. Yet the four bonus tracks, two of which are demos, remind that the man at the top of the bill has his own inimitable charm, an abiding virtue which stands him in good stead throughout these six reissues (and probably accounts for the enlistment of these famous names to play on this one!?).

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