Tag Archives: Nick Lowe

Lately I’ve Let Things Slide – Nick Lowe

They called him Basher, which seems hard to believe when you look at the cover of 2001’s The Convincer. Nick Lowe, then only in his early ’50s, sits cigarette in hand, resplendent in silver-fox quiff, blue blazer, cufflinks, pinstriped shirt and pale tie, looking about the age he is now (69) – and thanks to his tobacco-thickened voice sounding it, too. He looks a crooner for the Peter Skellern set, but looks can be deceptive.

The unlikely-seeming nickname goes back to the late 1970s. As an in-house producer, Lowe earned the sobriquet from his repeated advice to young bands to just “bash it out”, an attitude that birthed the Damned’s debut single New Rose – a fearsome 2-minute block of distorted noise – and led a generation to believe that Elvis Costello was essentially a punk artist (OK, EC’s spittle-drenched delivery of his manic diatribes contributed to that, too).

But Lowe’s own records were always somewhat more elegant than his production clients’, even during the years when he was a semi-father figure to the punk generation, and they’ve only gotten more so.

Lately I’ve Let Things Slide from The Convincer is a portrait of a man who ruefully admits he’s going to pieces over the end of a love affair, but is still trying his best to hold everything together and not let it show. Lowe’s style is usually an economical one, and in typical style he sketches his character with a few simple details, in plain language and short phrases:

With a growing sense of dread
And a hammer in my head,
Fully clothed upon the bed,
I wake up to the world
That lately I’ve been living in.

There’s a cut upon my brow:
Must have banged myself somehow,
But I can’t remember now.
And the front door’s open wide –
Lately I’ve let things slide.

The five-stress pattern he establishes in these first two verses is the basis of the entire song, but it works without becoming repetitive because of the accumulation of wryly funny details (“That untouched takeaway/I brought home the other day/Has quite a lot to say”) and the little variations in Lowe’s phrasing – for example, in the lines “Smoking I once quit/Now I got one lit/I just fell back into it”, it’s the way he pauses for a tiny split second after “just” and hangs on “fell” a hair longer than you expect. Lowe’s voice might have become rounder with age and lost some notes from the upper ranges, but his delivery is still razor-sharp.

The Convincer is a lovely record. Between Dark and Dawn, I’m a Mess, Let’s Stay In and Make Love, Indian Queens* and his cover of the Norman Bergen/Shelly Coburn song Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart are all favourites of mine, but the whole record is worth your time, and Lately I’ve Let Things Slide is the song I’d put on mixes for anyone interested in late-period Nick Lowe.

Image result for the convincer nick lowe

*Indian Queens is an oddly named village in Cornwall. The song is a character sketch of a man who has travelled the world and now years to return to the village where he grew up.

 

 

Advertisements

Harmony-singing heaven – the short and precious career of Tres Chicas

Hi all. It’s a very busy week this week, with my day off tomorrow looking likely to be not very ‘off’ at all. So I’ve dug into the archives and pulled out a post I wasn’t totally happy with about music I really like. Here’s a new and more fleshed-out version to tide you over till the weekend, when I will, I hope, be back.

Where are Tres Chicas? Seven years is a long time not to have put out a new record. Especially when they only made two albums in their initial short burst of activity.

Tres Chicas is the name adopted by its three principal members: Lynn Blakey (Let’s Active, Glory Fountain), Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown) and Tonya Lamm (Hazeldine). They’re all veterans of the indie country scene of the American south. They met each other and began singing together for fun during the long period where their bands played shows on the same bill, at home and on tour, in various combinations. Their name was coined by the owner of the bar where they performed in public for the first time and it stuck.

In 2004, they released their debut, Sweetwater, on Yep Roc. This label is worthy, not cutting-edge, and has made something of a specialty of signing industry veterans (folks like Gang of Four, Paul Weller, Nick Lowe, Chris Stamey, Fountains of Wayne, John Doe, Jim White, Sloan, Soft Boys, Tony Joe White – you get the idea). Sweetwater, recorded and produced by Chris Stamey, was an Uncut reader’s dream come true: a who’s who of alt. country talent. Original Whiskeytown drummer Skillet Gilmore (also Caitlin Cary’s husband) was on board, as was pianist Jen Gunderman (who’d replaced Karen Grotberg in the Jayhawks).

And it was a very fine record, too: simple, spare, a little lo-fi, a little rough around the edges, but utterly charming.

Its opening songs (a brace by the normally reliable Lynn Blakey, who is probably the dominant songwriting voice over their two albums) are plodding and somewhat stodgy, which is a shame as Heartbeat especially is a nice song held down by a drum track that trudges rather than bounces, but the album comes alive thereafter. The band work up a little sweat on a high-sprited cover of Loretta Lynn’s Deep as Your Pocket and then brake hard for a beautiful version of Lucinda Williams’ Am I Too Blue, where they’re backed by the members of Chatham County Line. This is where Tres Chicas are at their best: bringing the simplest of songs to life with their peerless harmony singing. If you’re a fan of this sort of stuff, listen on headphones. Cary’s on the left (also playing fiddle), Blakey in the middle and Lamm on the right. Three strong singers breathing with each other, listening to each other, phrasing with each other. It’s not slick, their voices don’t blend into one inseperable whole, but that’s what makes it so powerful

The good songs keep coming: Caitlin Cary’s Desire (written with Stamey and yet another Whiskeytown alum, Mike Daly) is clever and funny; In a While (written by and lead-sung by Lamm, with a Cary co-write) splits the difference between Hazeldine and early Gillian Welch. But the album’s highlight is When Was the Last Time, credited to all three band members, and featuring a spine-tingling final section where the singers repeat the opening line and title phrase in the round, their voices popping up in the left, right and centre channels while Gunderman plays a simple churchy piano and the band slowly comes back in. It’s a deceptively artful arrangement, inspired by what is probably the best song on the record, and certainly the one that most captures what’s great about this band: the warmth of the voices, the palpable feeling friendship between the band members, the sense that the stakes here are low and these people have nothing to prove to each other or to anyone else.

Perhaps such an atmosphere couldn’t be captured twice. Their second album Bloom, Red, and the Ordinary Girl (the band’s nicknames for each other apparently – but it’s still a dreadful, unwieldy title for an actual record), recorded in London with Geraint Watkins, Nick Lowe, BJ Cole and a cast of yeoman British musicians, is a less characterful, down-home affair. It does contain a couple of masterpieces (Cary and Blakey’s languorous All the Shade Trees in Bloom and jazzy Only Broken; Blakey’s plaintive Slip so Easily) so it’s worth hearing. The moment when all three singers voices come together to sing the title phrase on Shade Trees is worth the price of admission on its own – a moment that is all the overwhelming for how long Cary’s elongated, sleepy verse has held it back. But, unlike Sweetwater, BR&OG never becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Nevertheless, if this is your kind of music, you’ll find a lot to enjoy. Seriously, in the extended hiatus Welch and David Rawlings took during the last decade, no one was making better country music. I’m still hoping there’s going to be more.

Tres Chicas
l-r Cary, Blakey, Lamm