...each track as easy and laid back as a porch swing in August.
Chris Jones 2002
Crazy name, crazy career... Mr Nichols is the product of a Wyoming, Missouri and Texas upbringing that involved a diet of Bluegrass festivals, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Charlie Rich and...err, Jimmy Cliff. If you've ever wondered why no one ever dares to combine southern soul, dub reggae, folk and country well, wonder no more, dear reader. Jeb's here to show you the way.
Whereas Nichols' first two albums Lover's Knot and Just What Time It Is were reggae inflected concoctions, his approach has become more sparse and relaxed, as if in response to his new rural home in the Welsh mountains (the album was recorded in his barn - how country is that?). Easy Now is an album of acoustic instruments layered over vaguely hip hop beats and peppered with Al Green licks, each track as easy and laid back as a porch swing in August. A more relaxed and assured piece of work has yet to appear this year.
As Nichols himself says, "We wanted to make a very immediate, emotional record, the kind of records that are very rarely made these days, non-cynical, no irony, nothing clever." This is why this album succeeds where other alt. Country mavericks like Lambchop often fail. Kurt Wagner's combination of Curtis Mayfield, Phil Spector and George Jones often comes across as a little too calculated and post-modern. Jeb's sunny use of everything from Willie Mitchell to Adrian Sherwood (with whom he shared a flat!) springs from a purer love and appreciation. These are not songs filled with surreal invocations but just paeans to love, life and the simple pleasures that make it all worthwhile ("Better Than Beautiful").
Nichols wants to show us a life that, for all its imperfections, is full of small wonders. Tracks such as "Mostly Bittersweet" ("Aint got a roof, I got a starry crown' I'm not bitter, no, no, these days I'm mostly bittersweet") and the optimistically resigned story of a failed relationship, "Not The Only Man" can't help but fill the listener with wholesome warmth. The natural world makes a constantly recurring theme (listen to the birdsong on "A Little Love") and the fusion of classic soul stylings with Nichols' country twang of a voice never falters in its mission to move the heart as well as the feet. Easy Now won't set the world on fire, but it'll keep the homefires smouldering, and that's more than enough for now.