The Old Magic | Review

Classic Albums Nick Lowe

Nick Lowe ‘The Old Magic’ 2011

On his website Bio Nick Drain Lowe is modestly listed as being the ‘musician’s musician’. This rings true for someone who was at the centre of the UK Pub Rock, Power Pop and New Wave scenes, working with the likes of Dave Edmunds and Elvis Costello, who went on to work with US Country Music royalty (then) wife Carlene Carter and her step-daddy Johnny Cash.

From his bass thumping days in the pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz Nick gained the affectionate moniker ‘The Basher‘. He later produced Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and The Damned. His first hit ‘Peace, Love and Understanding ‘ was released on Stiff Records, the influential indie label co-founded by Lowe’s Manager Jake Riviera.

The short-lived super group Little Village comprising Lowe, Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner, realized only one self-titled album cut in 1992, which is well worth a listen if you can get hold of it. These same players turn up regularly as Lowe’s studio sidekicks.

Lowe’s solo career, kicking off with two classic albums, 1978’s ‘Jesus of Cool’ and ‘Labour of Lust’ from the following year, has spanned many decades with many peaks and not too many troughs.

In the early ‘90s after the release of his 8th solo album ‘Party of One‘ Lowe was re-assessing his music and desperate to make changes. Nick enlisted the help of drummer and long-time collaborator Robert Treherne (aka Bobby Irwin). Together they took Lowe’s sound and musical approach to another level.

The debut of that sound was 1994’s ‘The Impossible Bird’. To describe the Lowe transformation as simply ‘mellower’ doesn’t do it justice – the clever lyrics and pop hooks are still as sharp as ever. And it’s so easy to listen to.

Treherne and Lowe stripped back the instrumentation and put more emphasis on the vocalizing and even injected country music melody. It became smarter and a whole lot more sophisticated than the street pop Lowe had been touting.

To say Nick became a MOR crooner would be cynical, the recording technique changed, it was more of a live sound yet still sounding textured. The whole thing was turned down a notch but didn’t lose any punch.

Nick’s songs became more personalized and poignant

The Nick Lowe ‘new sound’ continued on 1998’s ‘Dig My Mood ‘ yet really hit its stride on the 2001 classic ‘The Convincer‘.

If you missed these and want to check them out, Yep Roc Records released those 3 albums under the title ‘The Brentford Trilogy‘. Ian Rankin readers might get the connection, apparently Nick and Rankin live in the same neighborhood.

Nick Lowe ‘The Basher’ was by now making maturity seem hip and his band molded seamlessly to the new energized treatments of his songs.

2007’s aptly titled ‘At My Age’ sees the silver haired fox penning ‘I trained Her to Love Me’ and ‘Love’s Got a Lot to Answer for’.

‘The Old Magic’ released in 2011 perfected and reinforced a winning formula. The album was promoted with an Australian tour in 2012 and the Sydney Opera House show I saw still holds endearing memories as the ultimate show for performance and acoustic wonder.

The album starts with an ode to those cheap flowers servos sell, ‘Stoplight Roses‘. With just simple acoustic strumming and melodic picking by lead guitarist Steve Donnelly, Nick‘s lamenting melancholy can bring a tear to the eye.

Yet, I feel the tongue might be planted firmly in the cheek when the uplifting beat of track two ‘Checkout Time’ starts with an organ intro by the legendary Paul Carrack (Squeeze) over a choral background:

‘I’m 61 years old now Lord I didn’t think I would see 30,
Will I be loved and celebrated for my masterly crime?
Or Just another bum when it comes to checkout time’

I love it, either that plays at my exit ceremony or the lyrics are put on my headstone. What a fun way to look at your mortality .

‘House For Sale’ is a track every divorcee can relate to. Once again Nick makes it a philosophical exercise:

‘Paint is peeling, there’re cracks in the ceiling,
whatever happened to my happy home.
I’ve had enough, I’ll send a van to get my stuff,
I’m leaving like I’m getting out of jail’.

By this stage Nick is the grandmaster of dealing with breakups.

Which is probably the perfect segue to ‘Sensitive Man‘, a light and bouncy tune which features the talents of pianist Geraint Watkins, and has a fine trumpet solo, an instrument sadly missing in pop arrangements.

‘I Read a Lot ‘ explains Nick’s way of dealing with being single, it give him something to do between girlfriends. Once again the soulful trumpet accompaniment is a standout to the simple orchestration.

Closing side one is Tom T. Hall’s ‘Shame On The Rain’.

A choral intro to the side two opener ‘Restless Feeling’ picks up the pace with a great interplay of dueling keyboards and vibraphone – It’s cabaret at the top end of town.

Elvis Costello’s ‘Poisoned Rose’ follows. It’s a perfect song for Lowe’s interpretation of the drama and intrigue of a relationship gone wrong. I love the line ‘I talked to the garbage men and they took away your alibi’. Lowe’s heartfelt vocals heighten the melodrama.

The Geraint Watkins and Lowe co-composition ‘Somebody Cares For Me’ is punchy and has a great rockabilly feel. It’s punctuated with excellent doo-wop choruses expertly inserted in the right place.

Mixing up the styles even more, the Jeff West penned ‘You Don’t Know Me at All ‘ has a ska touch reminiscent of the Specials, with great brass arrangement.

Now imagine yourself sipping an espresso martini perched with a view of the water and the stereo up loud playing the closing track ‘Till The Real Thing Comes Along’… In classic Nick Lowe style the song’s imagery takes nostalgic lounge music to another level.

Originality abounds here on The Old Magic. Nick Lowe proving again that less is more.

The vinyl version of this album was pressed to play at 45 rpm on180 gram vinyl, a nice touch for vinyl aficionados.

Speaking of 45’s, Lowe released a one-off single in 2012 available only on vinyl: ‘Go Away Hound Dog’, now long out of stock.

Whether in analogue or digital, people, I couldn’t imagine The Old Magic not belting out of my car cassette player on a country road in paradise.

Sadly Robert Treherne, musical pal with Lowe for over 40 years, passed away in 2015.

Harry Steilus

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