in London a musician lives who carries the keys to the musical kingdom.
In his Technicolor sonic scope are all kinds of sounds, from rock to country
to soul to pop. Nothing is off limits, as long as it has a groove and
goodness based in reality. The musician has been performing for 40 years,
but is as fresh today as the first time he stepped on stage. There are
no tricks or short cuts here. Far from it. His songs are as solid as the
earth, yet carry no lingering hype or heaviness. The musician is Nick
Lowe, the headmaster of British rock, and his new album, At
My Age, is such a cause for certain celebration that fans and
neophytes alike should mark its release as a date to remember.
Sometimes the biggest gift of all comes when least expected, because as a collection of songs, At My Age actually has the feel of an all-timer. There are brand new Nick Lowe classics like “A Better Man” and “I Trained Her To Love Me” next to the obscure covers that are a total trademark of the ever-elegant Englishman, like Charlie Feathers’ “The Man In Love” and Faron Young’s “Feel Again.” And, as a special surprise, singer Chrissie Hynde guests on “People Change.” All are done with such supreme style and absolute substance that by album’s end, this is one collection that feels like a long-lost friend, music to bring on the good times and see listeners through the bad.
For Lowe, one of his secret weapons has always been as a songwriter of the highest order. “The last few records I’ve done have been a bit of my diary set to music,” he says. “I was feeling kind of blue and trying to describe some of what happens to everyone. It’s a rite of passage, really, the breaking up of relationships and all. But it’s different on this album, I suppose.”
Nick Lowe has proven one again his pen is mightier than ever, as evidenced by others like soul kings Howard Tate and Solomon Burke both doing earlier renditions of Lowe originals on At My Age. “It’s good when anyone does one of your songs, but I really like it best when they’re not too reverential with it, and they don’t do it like I did.” Another Lowe classic has been recently covered by the Holmes Brothers. “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?” has been turned into a relentless statement of belief and faith by the Brothers, a fact not lost on Lowe. “When I heard that recently,” he says, “I just stood straight up and thought, ‘My goodness, they’ve really outdone everyone.’ Those are the moments where it’s almost too good to be true.”
One constant quality of Nick Lowe is that he knows what he’s doing, and how he wants to do it. There is no room for equivocation there. “It’s a difficult thing, really, with the music I do,” he says. “I know my thing doesn’t have huge broad appeal, and it’s sort of retro. But I can’t stand that retro thing, at the same time. I try to put something in it so it doesn’t sound like it’s too earnest. And I still love playing with the same guys I’ve been playing with for, well, ages. They’re really great players, and they get me. They can do all kinds of different stuff, and we know what we don’t like. We will work on it a bit, but not labor over it. For me, it’s never like, ‘For the next album I’m going to Peru and find a nose flute.” Never.
With someone like Nick Lowe, who has been such an unending influence on music as a performer, songwriter, producer and all-around proud fan, there is always the question of how he knows when his songs are ready for their public debut. “When I can pick up an acoustic guitar and play the thing through,” he says, “if I can do that and it feels like someone else has written it, or I’m playing a cover song so it doesn’t sound like me anymore, then it’s done. I don’t try to make it anything, because when I try to make it something I can’t stand it. It needs to be as natural as possible, and generally not sound too much like me. It’s an inner gyroscope that lets you know when it’s done.”
is spinning just fine these days, and At My Age shows
there is no end in sight. Once again, the man who once dubbed himself
a Party of One proves that he’s still not only the life of that
musical party, but even better, a primary force which makes sure the party
won’t be stopping any time soon. Nick Lowe, ever
the insightful gentleman, is also aware of the ups and downs of the pop
life, and has managed to steer clear of shipwrecks and sharks from the
start, knowing it’s all part of a lifetime pursuit. “You
can never plan it out,” he rightly reasons. “You
just do what’s sent to you.” At My Age
is special delivery rock, pop and soul, straight from the heart of one
of music’s finest masters.
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