[3 December 2012]
If nothing else, Lowe Country, the third Nick Lowe tribute album in 11 years (incidentally, the same number of full-lengths the man himself has released in that time) proves one thing: a wide range of artists love all eras of the man’s art—from Brinsley Schwarz and New Wave to the mellower Brentford Trilogy –- and want to honor him. Most of the artists here are singer-songwriter types, which is to say, natural Lowe acolytes, occupying various slots on the twang continuum, running from JEFF the Brotherhood’s phased-guitar run through “Marie Provost” to Chatham County Line’s hoedown take on “Heart of the City”. Every artist’s heart is in the right place – and proceeds from the sales of the album go to the Nashville Rising Fund and the Central Texas Wildfire Fund – but, as with any tribute album, it’s funny to see what the absences of the guest of honor reveals about these tunes. (Of course, it helps that Lowe’s discography is chock full of great tunes; as Robert Christgau once noted, Lowe “could find a pop hook in a field holler.”)
Caitlin Rose sweetly swings on “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide”, but she can’t quite capture Lowe’s resignation; Amanda Shires turns “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass” from (if memory serves) Lowe’s cheeky recollections of touring with Bad Company into something of almost ineffable melancholy. Meanwhile, Colin Gilmore captures the prayerfulness of “You Make Me” – it’s effective, but I wish Shires had tackled it instead. Griffin House hews close to Lowe’s closest flirtation with post-punk, “Crackin’ Up”, and Robert Ellis has a blast with “All Men Are Liars”... even if you’ll still shake your head at the Rick Astley-bashing opening verse. Lowe’s absence is mostly keenly felt, though, on “Heart of the City”. Chatham County Line’s version is fun enough, but drained of the Lowe’s sense of cultural and sexual thrillingness (“There’s a girl, my lord!”) on the unimpeachable, unimprovable original.
Looking at the tracklist of all three tribute albums, it may be time to give a rest to a few of these classics and dig deeper into the Lowe canon: surely, someone out there can give a fresh spin to, say, “Ragin’ Eyes”, “You’ll Never Get Me Up In One Of Those” or “I Live On A Battlefield”, none of which have appeared on a tribute album to date. Regardless of who is singing, or what they’re singing, on Lowe Country Nick Lowe’s wit, heart and humanity are always on display.