Nichols’ latest LP is another serving of not-quite-as-you-know-it country.
James Skinner 2012-04-18
Jeb Loy Nichols is a writer, artist and singer-songwriter transplanted from the American Midwest to a farmhouse in rural Wales. A long, colourful career has seen him blend dub and soul sounds with a dusty Americana vibe that counts the Sex Pistols, Al Green and Townes Van Zandt among its cadre of influences, the latter of whom’s songbook is delved into here for a smooth rendition of Waiting Round to Die.
It is an impressive vision, and Nichols’ velvet burr is ideally suited to some of the covers that …Special offers: a brassy, lilting run through Merle Haggard’s Going Where the Lonely Go and Pablo Gad’s reggae staple Hard Times in particular (re-imagined here as both acoustic sing-along and clanging plea for acknowledgement). That song’s message – that we are indeed living in hard times – is one that intermittently makes its presence felt on the record, not least on cocksure opener Different Ways for Different Days, where Nichols reels off a litany of dissatisfaction with modern culture.
…Special is more likeable when it keeps things simpler, as on the sparse, almost trad-folk Nothing and No One and refined late-night feel of Something About the Rain. Nonetheless, it is the showiest thing on here by a mile that led to it becoming Nichols’ first major-label release in 15 years, the somewhat self-explanatory Countrymusicdisco45. Admittedly far more disco than it is country, the song attracted label attention almost immediately after featuring on a Ministry of Sound broadcast, and is a striking indication of the kind of direction Nichols would like to take hereon in.
But in general, the stated aim of keeping things as simple as possible – as well as a desire to capture something of the freshness of live performance – throws up the odd gem, and the musicianship is slick and proficient throughout. The Jeb Loy Nichols Special marks the ninth solo LP in a career evidently concerned with following the whims and concerns of its maker as opposed to any wider notion of what is fashionable or contemporary, and for that it is to be applauded.